Is it ever acceptable to bend the truth in your brand language? Where’s the line between smart marketing and deception?

Brand language evokes images of animals living in idyllic conditions, when this is sometimes far from the reality.

If you walk into a British supermarket, you’ll find plenty of rural-sounding subbrands – like Hemsley chicken in Morrisons and Lochmuir salmon in Marks & Spencer. The names conjure up images of idyllic places – you can imagine chickens pecking around the farmyard at Hemsley, and fishermen reeling in a prize catch on the waters at Lochmuir. Except that Hemsley and Lochmuir aren’t real places; they don’t exist.

This type of brand language is trying to evoke a very different way of shopping for food – a world of local markets, ruddy-cheeked farmers and contented, cud-chewing cows. But as the horsemeat scandal highlighted, the reality of the product’s origins can be very different.

Peter Kendall, the head of the National Farmers’ Union, has criticised supermarketsfor using “homely, British-sounding” names like these to label meat that isn’t British. As an organisation that represents British farmers, the NFU obviously has a vested interest in the debate. But we’re inclined to agree. The outrage at the horsemeat revelations wasn’t so much because people object to eating horsemeat, but because they object to eating horsemeat unknowingly.

Consumers feel that the big food producers have been less than honest with them, and it’ll take time and money to regain their trust. We think the big brands could learn from organic veg supplier, Riverford – we posted recently about our admiration for boss Guy Watson’s honest approach.

But some producers may feel that honesty isn’t the best policy – because there are some things they’d rather we didn’t know about their food. Maybe that should be a wake-up call to improve the way they source their food, rather than keep trying to pull the wool over our eyes through their use of language.

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