I’ve written 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 company that also happens to have well executed branding. The vitaminwater brand is well-designed, well-marketed, and well-placed: you’ll find it alongside 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.”

Wha-WHAT?

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. It tells customers what’s most important about you without resorting to lies.

If you have to lie in order to compete, you’re probably in the wrong industry anyway.

Update: January 26, 2017

I still find myself having to bang the drum on this point all the time. Good brands do not include lies. Do not pretend to be someone or something you’re not. Build a brand that accurately represents you and what you stand for. Failing that, change what you’re all about, because your work should be aligned with your values.