Personal blog of Alicia Fowler, aka @aliciaef, senior strategist at FutureBrand. Topics covered include brands, branding, technology, and space, and more!

What's "better" even mean?

One curious food journalist, Melanie Warner, recently set out to find out what stood behind the Papa John's tag: "Better ingredients. Better pizza." What she found—and published—is a marketer's nightmare. Store employees whose lack of knowledge betrayed the brand's lack of cohesion. Unreturned phone calls from Papa John's R&D senior manager Connie Childs and the PR department. (And to be named! Ouch, that's bad.) And virtually no publically available information (not even online!). 

So, what "better" ingredients did she find? Well, the one store employee with whom she spoke offered up "freshness" as a key quality difference. And it seems that could be likely as the stores receive new groceries every few days. But "Better pizza from three-day old tomatoes" just doesn't have a ring to it. Beyond “freshness”, she found little in the way of "better" and in fact found a few detractors (such as frozen dough).

While this exposé barely even reaches the level of shame that Domino’s endured, it does highlight that sooner or later what your brand says does actually matter. Stay clear of meaningless superlatives and vacuous adjectives like "better" or "real" unless you can back these up with some smashing proof. Why? Well the ethics of making untrue claims aside, false advertising can get you into legal trouble. Especially comparative claims like “better than XX” which imply that you have proof as to why your product is better than another’s. (For a brief time, Pizza Hut won its false advertisement suit against Papa John’s, though that was eventually overturned).

But, the ethical and legal implications aside, why not use more imaginative (and descriptive!) language? If your company offers "real customer service” because it treats customers like family, then why not say, perhaps, that your company “treats customers like family since 1984”? I admit, that’s not the best line, no, but that’s heck of a lot more emotional and differentiated than “real customer service”. Lazy marketers rely on vacuous adjectives, asking customers to fill in the story for themselves. By pushing for clear, yet evocative language, you might end up in a far more compelling territory.

Regardless of the language you choose, remember that you have to walk the talk. In this day and age, everyone from journalists to iReporters will sniff out falseness and publicize it to the world. And once that hits the internet… Oof is that one tricky spider’s web to escape.



Content: Warner's Papa John's investigation

Image: Papa John's Facebook 

Alicia FowlerComment