When Brands Go Catfishing

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What Is Catfishing?

Catfishing is the term used to describe the act of starting a relationship with somebody online using a false identity. In simpler terms you’re a Catfish if you’re being somebody that you aren’t and stringing another person along for the ride. Catfishing is explored in-depth on the popular MTV show fronted by Nev Schulman and Max Joseph. The narrative of each episode often follows a similar thread: a “victim” gets in contact with the presenters to investigate the Catfish, and things end with the “victim” meeting the Catfish who turns out to be somebody different to who they said they were. Arguments, tears and intense questioning then ensue.

How can brands prove to consumers that they are who they say they are and stand for what they say they stand for?

Catfishing and Brands

I often see brands that have a strong online presence edging towards being something that they aren’t and becoming Catfishes themselves. A brand will only remain strong if it is able to go one step beyond being an expert storyteller and engaging with consumers using only surface-level communications. Consumers now want a fully authentic brand experience whenever they interact with brands, whether that is in a high street store, over the phone, or via a social media account. Brands need to radiate trust and maintain a consistent narrative across all of their touchpoints with consumers in order to build a strong rapport that results in brand preference and loyalty. A chink in the armour of a brand makes a consumer question the foundations of what a brand stands for and questions start to be asked.

Brands most certainly keep us from being “boring and dull”, but breach our loyalty when they start masquerading.

5 Tips for Brands

So how can brands prove to consumers that they are who they say they are and stand for what they say they stand for?

1 – Back Up Your Facts, Products and Services

There’s nothing worse than a brand that gets a question about its product or service and is unable to give the consumer a straight answer. When this happens it makes it seem to the consumer that they’re talking to a pretty face that’s style over substance instead of The Man Behind the Curtain. A Catfish would give excuses and find ways to skirt around the issue. Don’t be the Catfish – be prepared to back up any claims and be ready to give informative, honest and accurate responses to questions.

2 – Be Responsive

All successful brands use social media as a way of broadcasting their messages to consumers. What less successful brands do is restrict their social media activity to a one-way communications. A social environment is one which should involve two-way communication. Brands need to engage consumers and show that they aren’t just a robot that’s sending out formulaic tweets and Facebook posts. A Catfish would make themselves available to their “victim” whenever it suits themselves. Don’t be the Catfish – be responsive and engage with consumers that have chosen to engage with you.

A Catfish would latch on to anything to make itself look cool. Don’t be the Catfish.

3 – Be Ready To Go Out of Your Way

Sometimes an advertiser needs to do something extraordinary to get noticed in a jungle of other advertisers that all want their voice to be heard. This provides authenticity and proof to consumers and build stronger bridges in the process. Take Nando’s excellent “Chicken Cheque” as an example. A Catfish would never go out of its way to please who it’s talking to and is content with the status-quo where it’s comfortable. Don’t be the Catfish – a little effort can often go a long way.

Brands need to unveil The Man Behind the Curtain in order to build a rapport with consumers.

4 – Stay True to Yourself and Don’t Bandwagon

It can be tempting for large multi-national advertisers to spray cash at global events and big-budget moments. This may be in order to get the brand broadcast to as large an audience as possible, or to enjoy the prestige associated with such an event. However – why is Listerine claiming that fans need fresh breath in its World Cup sponsorship activation and why is Chevrolet sponsoring Manchester United just as it pulls its European operations? These moves signal to consumers that these brands don’t truly stand for anything, because they could essentially stand for everything. A Catfish would latch on to anything to make itself look cool. Don’t be the Catfish – stay true to your brand and only associate it with relevant events, moments, products, and so forth.

Authenticity can go a long way to building a rapport between a brand and consumer.

5 – Don’t Engage in “Social Catfishing”

“Social Catfishing” is the practise of making fake social media profiles to bolster follower and like numbers, or to increase positive sentiment around a brand in the form of fake reviews. It goes without saying that this is actively deceiving consumers and is a huge sin for any brand of any size in any industry. A Catfish would do anything to appear popular or well loved. Don’t be the Catfish – gain love and admiration organically and the success will feel much sweeter and more genuine when it comes around.


What we see all too often are brands being exposed for their social media faux pas. Whether they’re trying to intentionally deceive consumers or simply fail to grasp social media channels is a separate issue. Recently there has been a lot of bandwagoning onto world news events – Luis Suárez’s World Cup bite incident for example – that brands need not get involved in. Sure, it will get said brands some column inches, but it sends out a message to consumers that some advertisers are willing to leave behind their expertly crafted brand image and tone of voice for a like or a follow. In other words, they’re masquerading as something they aren’t in order to lure you in: Catfishing.

What matters is what the consumer thinks, and they now have the power to hang advertisers up to dry. If Catfish created a special episode on the media and advertising world it would extend well past its traditional 1 hour time slot.


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