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04/22/2010 Opacity and Disinformation as Brand Pillars

We see so many articles today on the need for transparency and honesty in brands that we almost believe that most businesses actually act that way now. With that in mind, it's amazing to witness a brand up close whose brand pillars seem to include the opposite. The brand I'm thinking about is Entergy and it's company Vermont Yankee.

Vermont Yankee, the only nuclear power plant in the area, is up for relicensing. It's a touchy subject here in environmentally focused (that's crunchy and green to some) Vermont. On the one hand, nuclear power has always been the bane of the environmentalists, although even Greenpeace is rethinking that one. On the other hand, reducing the amount of fossil fuels we use to reduce global warming is THE burning issue today.  Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Enter Entergy. Last fall it launched a campaign titled IAmVY.com where it showcased some of its people, including a number of very talented and articulate engineers.  They talked about the great jobs Vermont Yankee provided and how safe they believed nuclear power was. One woman in particular stated that Vermont Yankee would tell people the "facts." If people wanted to believe the facts was up to them. The message was clear: You could believe what Vermont Yankee told you, or you were a dope.

Within a month of the campaign launch, it turned out that Vermont Yankee had hidden information from the legislature and had a serious Tritium leak on its hands. Entergy quickly replaced the site with another, removing the most offensive videos. So much for facts and openness.

Then, in the last few weeks, the Vermont Yankee PR person wrote Op-Ed pieces for all of the local papers without identifying himself as a Vermont Yankee employee. He may have thought he was speaking as a private person, but when he's talking about his job and his employer, he'd have to assume everyone else is an idiot to believe there was no conflict of interest.

The pace of information these days should preclude brands acting in this way.  It's one thing to think you can get away with opacity and disinformation. It's another to keep doing it after you've been exposed again and again. But somehow, that's what Entergy and Vermont Yankee keep on doing.

It's too bad they don't have a communications policy like the social media policies developed by brands like Intel or Coca Cola. It might not stop the lies and subterfuge, but it might make employees think twice.

The bigger question for us when we see brands acting in a consistently dishonest manner is: If they're doing this for the little stuff, what big stuff are they not telling us about or blatantly lying about? Once we head down that road, the sky's the limit.

Brands, like people, are only as good as their word. And for Entergy's Vermont Yankee, its word is MUD.


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