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The importance of transparency for brands

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Transparency noun
The quality of being done in an open way without secrets:

‘Transparency’ has quickly become a part of business and marketing vocabulary. Dictionaries offer many definitions for the word, with synonyms such as: “easily understood,” “very clear,” and “frank”. Today, consumers have more choice than ever and choose to do business with companies that are honest, open and… transparent.

Entrepreneur Mat Franken explains, “When buyers make purchases, they want to know their decisions are good for their family and align with personal or charitable interests. Trust can’t be bought. It must be earned. Consumers want to understand exactly what they are buying, and rightly deserve the knowledge they seek.”

Furthermore, a recent survey by influencer company SheSpeaks highlighted that women are more likely to buy a product or buy in to a brand that is perceived to be transparent and authentic about its product and business practices.

Enter Coca Cola, a brand that has a long running reputation for not always being as transparent as it could be about its business practices. Coca Cola came under fire in a recent Channel 4 ‘Dispatches programme titled, the Secrets of Coca Cola’.

In the programme presenter Antony Barnett shed light on Coca Cola’s fight back on the incoming sugar tax, its close ties with influential scientists and some of the private lengths that some members of the corporation supposedly go to undermine a raft of public policy initiatives. In the documentary, it transpired that Coca Cola was engaged in battles to fight sugar taxes in 10 countries including the UK.

Leaked emails from a Senior American Coke Executive show the company boasting of support from Tory politicians:

“A campaign is underway to build a case against the tax with some promising support among Conservative Party members…Options to broaden the affected categories are being discussed if the tax cannot be defeated.”

Three days after this email was sent Coke met with Treasury Minister David Gauke MP the month after the announcement of the sugar tax. Minutes of the meeting showed that Coke recognised the British Government were tackling child obesity, but were doing it “the wrong way.” They said the sugar tax was “unfair” and “won’t work”. They also managed to get a meeting with Sir Jeremy Heywood, Head of the Civil Service, where the company not only expressed their anger about the sugar tax but also threatened legal action. A lot of this approach seemed a bit ‘cloak and dagger’ which meant that Coca Cola came out of the interviews very badly.

The fact that lots of Coke’s business practices were being ‘exposed’ on television is at odds with a spokesperson saying the company “strives to be as transparent as possible”.

Coca cola issued a statement in reaction the programme titled, ‘How we actually work at Coca-Cola’. The statement reads, ‘Since the day the tax was announced, we’ve been making our view on it very clear, both publicly and in private – and our point of view on the tax has never changed’.

If Coca Cola were making big strides in becoming more and more transparent, this was not something that was coming across to the majority of British consumers on Twitter. From surprise at the sugar content of a can of Coke (9 teaspoons!), to the funding given to studies by respected universities, consumers were up in arms about some of the ‘revelations’.

Although they are one of the world’s favourite brands, Coca Cola has some way to go in building trust with consumers. As one of the leading brands, they will increasingly come under fire, especially in the modern media landscape, so they need to be seen to spearhead openness and honesty.

As journalist Neil Patel says, “As people become more transparent with one another, their relationships deepen. A culture of transparency is the way business ought to be done.”

Clare Wildman
Senior Account Manager

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