Chapter 3: Strategic Communication Ethics

16 Lack of transparency

Most crisis communication experts agree that transparency is key to maintaining or regaining the public’s trust. Lack of transparency can have devastating effects that sometimes leave a permanent stain on a company or brand’s image. Brands cannot thrive without the public’s trust.

A recent case that demonstrates the negative outcomes of failing to be transparent is the emissions scandal at Volkswagen. In 2015, news outlets reported that the German car company used a “defeat device” in many of its cars as far back as 2009 to cheat on several emissions tests conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency. These devices were able to detect when tests were being conducted and help reduce toxic emissions during the procedures. In reality, the vehicle emissions were well above the levels permitted by the EPA.


The Volkswagen Scandal (Source: The Verge)

Soon after the public received the news, Volkswagen sales plummeted and a social backlash against the company ensued. As a result, the CEO resigned and the company lost the public’s trust. The organization is still going through damage control and court settlement procedures.

Compromising transparency to benefit a company’s bottom line may seem like a good idea in the moment, but the long-term damages can be significant. 

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