Dishonest Branding, Coke and Vitaminwater

People acting fake


I’ve spoken before about what makes a good brand and how branding can either be honest or dishonest.

A few weeks ago a lawsuit came to light that is a perfect example of how even well-developed brands that are dishonest can lead to undesirable results.

Coca-Cola was sued by a non-profit group challenging the truthfulness of the branding of their vitaminwater product. It seems vitaminwater is actually just as bad for you as any soda, and the supposed health-benefits are fiction. Pure dishonest branding.

This is interesting for a few reasons.

First, it’s a great example of a dishonest brand that also happens to be well done. The vitaminwater brand is well-designed, well-marketed and well-placed: you’ll find it alongside all kinds of health-oriented drinks in organic-crazed shops like Whole Foods and in the ‘granola’ sections of mainstream supermarkets.

Second, it shows that impostors hiding behind even very well-built brands can’t hide their true colors forever. Who’s to say what will happen as a result of this lawsuit, but you can be sure that if it goes well, there will be a slew of other products in the crosshairs soon, not to mention much stricter regulations as to what passes muster when it comes to being defined as ‘healthy.’

Third, I think most of us fell for it, and I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty pissed. I feel betrayed, like Coke made a fool of me. They only added insult to injury with their official response to the lawsuit, explaining why they shouldn’t be sued:

“No consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking vitaminwater was a healthy beverage.”


Coke, that hurts. Not only have you pulled the wool over my eyes, but now you’ve called me unreasonable for thinking that a product whose name is a combination of ‘vitamin’ and ‘water,’ which uses slogans like ‘vitamins + water = all you need’ isn’t bad for you.

My fault for trusting your word, I guess.

Coke will bounce back from this, of course. They’re a multi-billion dollar company and can take more than a few legal knocks before feeling the burn.

But would you be able to?

A good brand creates a hierarchy of important – and TRUE – information about you, your product or your service. This tells people what’s most important without lying, which is a great way to raise awareness and improve your image while avoiding lawsuits.

Keep this in mind: if you have to lie in order to compete, you’re probably in the wrong industry anyway.