Honesty in marketing and PR: Talking about the negatives as well as the positives

Should marketing and PR talk about the negatives as well as the positives in a new product launch?

Let’s talk about honesty in marketing and PR.

Countless press releases promoting new products and services hit in boxes everyday. And not just about brand new propositions, even minor improvements get promoted. It’s all part of marketing communications. Letting your customer know about the features, and more importantly the benefits, to them, of the new stuff.

LONDON, UK: World Traveller cabin on a British Airways Boeing 777 at London Gatwick on 04 March 2018 (Picture by Nick Morrish/British Airways)

Companies want to shout out loud about the launch because they’ve invested heavily in its development. They want to attract more customers. They want to guarantee a rapid return on their investment.

But what if there are also negatives about the new offer? Should marketing and PR be honest about any negatives? Or is it okay to hide them away. Or not even mention them? Is honesty the best policy?

I came across a press release from British Airways highlighting their refurbishment project for their Boeing 777 fleet at London Gatwick airport. These long haul work horse aircraft serve the leisure routes to the Caribbean, Florida and South America.

The positives


The headline of the press release screams about the improvements to the customer experience. In shouty capitals no less.

For those not familiar with British Airways brand hierarchy, World Traveller is the airline’s long haul economy brand, and World Traveller Plus is the premium economy cabin.

So we’re looking at improvements to the cabins most people fly in as they jet off on holiday with BA from Gatwick.

Next the press release unpacks the good news.

The new World Traveller Plus and World Traveller cabins….have been fitted with elegant new seats with 50 per cent larger entertainment screens…

Sounds good.

Great attention to detail has also been paid to how the customer uses their seat, with the World Traveller Plus design featuring a new leg and footrest, as well as an improved fully adjustable six-way headrest to suit customers of all heights. The new seat also has a cocktail table at the front and in-arm tray tables.

Nice. Liking the sound of premium economy.

The World Traveller cabins have also been fitted with the newest, most enhanced seating, which feature a six-way headrest with adjustable ears for added comfort and movable middle arm rests…

Even the new cattle class seats sound great.

The new in-flight Panasonic entertainment system – which has the capacity to offer four times as many films, TV and audio – has been updated with larger HD screens and gesture control to navigate the interface like using a tablet. The screen size will double from six to 12 inches in World Traveller Plus, and increase from six to 10 inches in World Traveller.

Superb. Now even the longest flights will be more bearable with all this HD audio and video content.

Bespoke lighting has been fitted in every cabin and can be set to reflect the time of day, helping to lull travellers to sleep at night and wake them in the morning so customers arrive feeling fresher and the effect of jet-lag is lessened.

Oh, I do like mood lighting. Seriously. I find it helps me to nod off.

All sounds great doesn’t it. The press release gushes about the benefits. And why not? BA wants people to know about their excellent new products.

Let’s face it. Long haul economy travel is uncomfortable for many people and the BA improvements will make journeys more agreeable.

The negative

But there is a negative.

And it’s a big one.

And BA don’t mention it at all in the press release. Not even in the “Note to Editors” section at the end of the release.

Before they refurbished the Gatwick 777s, BA’s economy seating was nine abreast in a 3 x 3 x 3 format.

During the upgrade BA stuck in an extra line of seats, increasing economy to ten abreast in a 3 x 4 x 3 format.

To squeeze the extra seats in BA, made them smaller.

The old seats were 18.1in wide. The new ones are 17.4in wide.

Losing almost an inch of seat width maybe doesn’t sound much until you’re sat next to someone with wide shoulders and jutting elbows with a nine-hour flight ahead of you.

Ten abreast also means narrower aisles and more chance of the food and duty free trolleys bashing into aisle seat passengers.

Within Waterside, the sprawling BA headquarters near London Heathrow airport, the name for the project to refurbish the Gatwick birds is “Densification”.


Whilst brand new seats and bigger HD inflight entertainment screens are a positive benefit for customers, calling the project “densification” doesn’t make it sound customer focused to me.

It’s a horrible, made up, management speak name, for cramming in more, smaller, seats and reducing passenger comfort and personal space.

The pretty new screens and mood lighting are clearly sweetening the bitter pill of more cramped seating. The fact the press release doesn’t even mention “densification” confirms this.

Were BA relying on lazy journalists not digging a little deeper into the story, hoping they’d just copy and paste the press release into their publications. It does happen. Sometimes journalists are so busy they don’t have time to investigate further.

Does this matter?

In fairness to BA, although Boeing designed the 777 for nine abreast seating in economy, most airlines now run ten across. BA can just say they’re following the market trend.

Will passengers even notice?

Unless you’re a frequent flyer like me, you won’t geek out on airline seating arrangements. Most passengers will be grateful for the upgraded seats with clean new covers and HD in flight entertainment. The old, standard definition system, was certainly showing its age.

But BA has a reputation for its marketing hype. Putting a positive spin on its cuts in service and its cramming in of more seats.

I believe in honesty in marketing and PR. I think BA should have mentioned the change from nine to ten abreast and the reduced seat width. Then customers could decide whether the improvements to the in flight entertainment and the new seats were a fair trade-off for the reduction in personal space on board.

Marketing called it a, “PLUS-SIZED MAKE OVER.”

BA management called it, “DENSIFICATION.”

What would you call it?

Now it’s your turn:

Do you think BA should have been honest about the more cramped seating? Or were they right just to promote the positives? Should there be honesty in marketing and PR or is it okay to hide the truth?