The Truth Will Set You Free: How Brands Can Benefit from Transparency

May 31, 2014 | By: Jessie Gould | 3 min read

Contrary to popular belief, it’s easy to keep secrets. Everyone has their family recipes that must never be passed out at parties, the shortcomings that they want to keep behind closed doors. Businesses are no exception. Now, sharing a secret – that’s hard.

Sharing a secret takes guts. But when done well, it draws two people together. The act of sharing intimate knowledge builds a trust that isn’t easily broken.

Here’s my secret: It can work the same way with brands.

In recent years, transparency has taken center stage. Consumers want to know the ethics of the brands they are buying from, and they want to see exactly what they’re buying before they buy it. Below are three brands that have heard the plea for more information and delivered with flying colors.


McDonalds has been working hard to change their brand image. The notorious fast-food joint gained a lot of bad press over the past few years, from rumors about worms in the burger patties, to user videos of chicken nuggets made from “pink goop,” to questions of just how many preservatives are packed into the burgers. Around 2012, McDonalds began publishing their own videos of their kitchens and cooking practices. McDonalds Canada also launched an “Our Food, Your Questions” site that allows anyone to ask a question about their food and receive a public and refreshingly honest answer.

“Why does your food look different in the advertising than what is in the store?” asked Isabel M. from Toronto. McDonalds responded with a personalized response and step-by-step look at their photography and editing process:


Virgin America

For years, airlines have focused their marketing efforts on the central message of ‘We’ll get you there fast and comfortably.’ Virgin America, however, maintains a nearly cult-like following by standing out among a relatively unimaginative industry as the party plane. Their message is that it’s all about the voyage. In the words of the company’s marketing director, Dimitrios Papadogonas, Virgin is targeted at customers who are “dateable and promotable.” The brand seeks a young, fashionable crowd to make its flights social and fun, and its Instagram account certainly reflects that. Among on-flight flight attendant selfies, candid photos of Richard Branson (founder and owner of Virgin Group), and lots of small dogs, the airline promotes its brand image without excess ‘pomp.’ Users get a first-person view of what it’s like to be up in the air on a Virgin America flight through a medium that’s used naturally and appropriately.


The ubiquitous coffee house has been striving to make more sustainable business choices. Jim Hanna, director of environmental affairs, discussed these efforts: "Hyper-transparency is a must. It's not something we should be afraid of; it's something we welcome,” Hanna says, "…We'll share the bumps and bruises – our failure stories along with our success stories."

Many of those stories can be found on the brand’s Youtube channel. In 2010, for example, Starbucks sent some of its partners to Costa Rica to experience the supply chain at its origin. The video shows the in-the-moment reactions and imperfect abilities of the travellers:


The Starbucks Youtube channel also offers a series of videos giving a behind-the-scenes look at the various employee positions in the supply chain. Not only is this great for building consumer trust, but it is also a powerful method of recruiting new talent.

Behind the scenes at your business

What would it look like if your company were to open its doors for the public to get a glimpse – or more than a glimpse? Here are four action steps to get started:

  1. Target what customers want to know: Some information builds trust. Other information is pointless. Learn to distinguish the two.
  2. Make customers feel like part of the team: It’s a shift in mindset. Be honest with shortcomings and invite customers to take part in improvements. This kind of openness contributes to a culture of sharing in both success and defeat and gives a brand a more human face.
  3. Publish insider views. What does a day in the life of an employee look like? If you’re trying to attract new talent, let current talent do the talking.
    For example, check out our PR intern’s insight on what makes a good internship program.
  4. Promote customer photos. Provide a space for your audience to share their photos of your products or facility, whether it’s merely reposting images on Facebook, or it’s creating a gallery of user photos. Don’t shy away from honest responses; if a customer posts an image of how unreliable a product is, use it as an opportunity to show off stellar customer service.

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