Storytelling helps marketing but must it be truthful?

20th July 2016 | Posted in Branding

Imaginary farm names are part of the storytelling for supermarkets

We’re currently seeing Tesco being berated by the National Union of Farmers for using the names of imaginary farms on some of their products. Why? Because a consumer survey found that many people thought the name suggested that the produce was sourced in the UK, but actually Tesco buys in from other countries too.

It looks then like Tesco has brought a heap of trouble on its head by creating this marketing strategy. What on earth was the thinking behind this?

We love to feel good about our food

This storytelling is about helping people to feel good about their choices.

Marketing food under a farm brand paints pictures in a customer’s mind that’s wholesome and comforting and fresh and a million miles away from low-cost farming methods.

That works particularly well with the population that cares about the provenance of its food and the welfare of the animals that create it, but also want value in their purchasing.

Especially eggs

Eggs are a great example of how a few words can create a story. We know that officially there are terms to describe how hens are cared for. “Free range”, “barn” and the one I only heard about via that venerable farming soap opera, the Archers on BBC Radio 4 – “pastured”. They all sound like our chickens lead a happy life, and for consumers who care but don’t delve too deeply, that’s just fine. And “farm fresh” sounds so much more enticing than “cage reared”, without actually promising anything.

Simply storytelling or leading astray?

In this case the NUF argues that Tesco is misleading its customers with its imaginary farms. Tesco could argue in turn that those customers are simply buying into a story that they want to hear. Whether the farm is real or invented doesn’t really matter. They want to feel an association with the countryside that produces their food, and this approach does that without doing any real harm. The problem here is that customers also seem to want to hear a story about locally produced food, and that could be where Tesco finds itself in trouble because it’s seen as not being entirely truthful.

Marketing through storytelling for any brand

Marketing thinking says that it’s fine to tell stories that people want to buy into. It’s often the one thing that differentiates one brand from another. The challenge is not to mislead people in the telling of those stories, because then they will feel that they have been lied to and the brand will suffer.

There’s a lesson here for anyone involved in branding and marketing a product and a service. Painting a picture that resonates with customer aspirations and lifestyles is great. Telling porkies, whether directly or by inference, is a bad move.

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