Building Trust in Brand Communications: Lessons from Poonam Pandey’s Fake Announcement

Building Trust in Brand Communications: Lessons from Poonam Pandey's Fake Announcement

While Indian netizens were dazed by the news of model/actor Poonam Pandey’s fake death, giving
rise to a debate on ethics, the shockwaves of this publicity stunt continue to topple the media
bandwagon. The digital marketing agency Schbang, which executed this gimmick, has also received
flak from people on social media. The agency has lost a major client, MSD, which is the Indian
affiliate of the US pharma giant Merck. This brings us to the point that any publicity stunt that you
pull on social media comes with consequences. There is no such thing as free publicity. Either the
agency or the client has to pay a price for it. In the case of the fake death news scandal of Poonam
Pandey, the price was the loss of faith.
For advertising, marketing, digital and social media agencies, communication lies at the core of their
expertise. It is through communication that creative agencies help their clients establish trust and
faith among their customers. What they say and the way they say it helps the customer draw an
image of a brand; it helps in establishing their brand identity and credibility. A wrong message can
instantly destroy months of hard work, especially in the age of social media, where news travels fast
and tends to become ‘viral.’ It is, therefore, important for brands to have a well-planned strategy in
place rather than short-term gimmicks.
Building trust in brand communications is crucial for long-term success and customer loyalty. In a
world saturated with options, consumers gravitate towards brands they trust. This trust is cultivated
through consistent, transparent and authentic communication. Brands that prioritise honesty about
their products, services and business practices can significantly strengthen their relationships with
their audience. Some of the important factors that help build trust through brand communication
Interaction: Social media platforms and customer service channels offer opportunities for brands to
listen to their customers, respond to their concerns and adapt based on feedback.
Transparency: Sharing behind-the-scenes insights into product development, sourcing and the
values that guide a company can create a deeper connection with consumers.
Consistency: Consistency across all forms of communication helps to reinforce a brand’s message
and identity.
Why is trust important?
Trust is the be-all and end-all of all brand communications. It is the sole reason why brands want to
connect with their customers. Any brand that’s in for the long haul knows that when its marketing
and advertising efforts are targeted at building trust, sales eventually follow.
Trust is not built overnight. It requires a sustained effort to communicate genuinely, act ethically and
deliver on promises. Brands that invest in these areas are more likely to build a loyal customer base
and differentiate themselves in a competitive market. In the case of Poonam Pandey, it is clear that
shock value is not a good enough reason to pull such an ethically questionable publicity stunt.
Brands must remember that navigating communication strategies amidst controversial publicity
stunts requires a delicate balance between risk and reward. While such stunts can generate
significant attention and buzz, they also pose the risk of alienating segments of the audience or
damaging the brand’s reputation if executed insensitively. Therefore, brands must carefully assess
the potential impact on their image, values and target demographics before undertaking such

As communication experts, it is the responsibility of the marketing, advertising, digital and social
media teams to weigh the potential benefits against the risks and ensure that any publicity stunt
aligns with overall brand identity and long-term goals. It is safe to conclude that building the
customer’s trust and gaining their confidence consistently and transparently is more important and
effective than creating viral and shock value-based content.

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