Deborah Pead, Founder and CEO

What is the colour of your washing?

There is a new contender on the washing line and it's not relentless hand washing. It's called Covid-Washing.

The Covid-Washing brand of deception is going to keep the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) on its toes. Clamping down on the health claims ahead that lack any foundation other than playing to people’s anxieties.

A recent Covid-washing case saw a TGA infringement notice to a celebrity chef. He claimed his expensive Biocharger machine “is programmed with a thousand different recipes and there's a couple in there for the Wuhan coronavirus”. He was slapped with a $25K fine – which is $10K more than the price of one of his phony machines.

And he is not alone – watch out for an influx of  “immunity boosting” and “Covid busting” claims. 

Covid-Washing joins that well-bathed bunch – Green washing, Pink Washing, Woke Washing and Rainbow Washing. After four decades in PR, I've challenged countless extravagant claims that just do not stack up.

Green-Washing: the worst offender

The biggest culprits to date have been the Greenwashers. When a consumer says they will pay more for environmentally friendly products, watch as products twist themselves into a shade of green.

VW is high profile poster child for the deception that goes hand in hand with green washing.  The manufacturers deliberately deceived its customers on false claims of “clean diesel emissions”. They got caught out and paid a lot of greenbacks since – some $11 billion at the last count.  

Less high profile but equally deceptive are the broad sweeping on-pack descriptions. The imagery that imply compostable packaging, safe and flushable wipes, green cookware, ocean friendly, greenhouse friendly, and eco-friendly.

One client thought that a video of their staff planting vegetables in a distant part of the planet would balance out the fact they ship in and sell millions of items, all in heavy duty plastic and then leave it to NZ to deal to the waste at the end of the supply chain. Nice try but I am not prepared to pitch that story.  However, if they spent some of their eye watering profits on trying to invent refillable and non-plastic packaging, I’ll tell that story loud and proud.  Sadly, too many clients are more concerned with how a product looks on a supermarket shelf than its impact on the planet.

In many cases it is hard to tell if a company is making more of an effort to be sustainable or is it just good business and clever marketing?   If a business removes a layer of packaging from its supply chain, the driver is probably to cut costs, not to be more sustainable.  But if that company finds a sustainable replacement for its packaging then its more likely to be a genuine attempt to be more sustainable.

Rainbow-Washers Too

Rainbow washing is in a similar laundry basket. This is the practise of adding a rainbow to show support for LBGTQ people.

Do you have a history of challenging the inequalities in society? Do you promote a LBGTQ quota in your recruitment and your career advancement policies and in your commercials? Then that’s authentic support and you should be proud of your Pride.

On the other hand, maybe you simply slap a colour on your packaging, your company car or your adverts to coincide with Gay Pride. Well, then that’s not genuine support – that’s commercialisation.

Brands do not have to be everything to everyone and nether should they be social justice warriors on every issue. Great brands innately understand their place, the issues, trends and challenges that underpin their values, vision and purpose.

Take the sustainable clothing label Patagonia. Patagonia joined a court case against the Trump administration to block the exploitation of national park lands for oil-drilling. There were no cries of green washing or accusations of marketing gimmicks – because it was just Patagonia, being Patagonia.

A once over lightly colour washing is risky business for a brand, the consumer is not gullible all the time.

And as they say it all comes out in the wash. People will eventually find out the truth when the grey you are hiding is washed out.

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