Yesterday I had to stop myself from throwing out frozen macaroni cheese from my freezer. You may be thinking where’s the horse meat in Macaroni Cheese….. however it wasn’t the hidden meat products that unnerved me but the Tesco Value packaging.

The association with contaminated food massively impacts an organisations brand, and branding touches an emotional nerve. Once the brand is damaged, the association sticks. Disaster for Findus this week and disaster for Tesco (although I’ve not much empathy since their new convenience store near my house has managed to put Mistry’s, my local corner shop, out of business).

The whole horse-meat scandal has made me think about advertising, branding, placement and supply chains. In recent years, the provenance of certain online advertising inventory has become unclear. If you go to the right places, you can target your ‘apparent’ market for a pound (or really cheap at least). In the same way, you can get a dozen burgers for 99p from ‘reputable’ food retailers that we thought was at least the left-over cuts of the meat, rather than a completely different animal!

So it is possible to spend marketing budgets, fill their schedules, tick off all the big channels, yet forget to ask whether we are really touching the audience we need or want. Whilst it appears on the face of it we are, if we don’t ask about the detail of how we are touching the audience (where it comes from), or we don’t care, we can feed our schedules with anything, and balance our overall budget, looking and tasting good in the process. However I suspect, like Findus Lasagne, we may find that the schedules end up being filled with more horse than cow.

The question should be: not will the product fill you up, but what will it do to your insides? How long will the empty marketing calories last? Will you end up rotting your insides, with associations with brands you would never associate with freely.

There has always been a murky side to advertising. Online promised us transparency and accountability, but like the EU, can sometimes, especially when chasing “value”, end up delivering dogs served up as cow. It’s good to see our friends in Out Of Home excited about the launch of Postar 3 this month. Another place where we will soon be able to read the labels more clearly in the future.

Brand owners beware. If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there. In fact arguably the only way to be sure to get where you want, is to know where you are going.