The Truth Is, There Is No Truth — Let Alone in Advertising

Think about it. Most of what we consume as information about our world, society, events, and brands is “second-hand” reality — let alone in advertising. We didn’t really see what happened in protests covered on national news. We were not live audience members at a political rally.

Think about it. Most of what we consume as information about our world, society, events, and brands is “second-hand” reality — let alone in advertising. We didn’t really see what happened in protests covered on national news. We were not live audience members at a political rally. Or we didn’t experience the results firsthand that a customer claims to have experienced from a company’s products or services.

So can we really trust or should we believe what others “report” to us? The answer to this is widely debated on Facebook and news stations as we face all of the “fake” news we get daily, and as we become more aware that so much of what we see and hear is just that: fake. We are finally being made aware of the fact that many propogandists will overlay someone’s face on another person’s video image to “fake” that someone in the public eye said something harming that, in most cases ,they never did. Scary. We are also learning that so much of the posts we see on social media — Facebook, especially — were created by propogandists and posted to our accounts because of the demographic profile Facebook created from our past posts and those of the “friends” connected to us. We’re really starting to get it, whether we face it or not.

One thing we marketers need to also face is the how the “truth” we are putting out there is being received. As consumers are starting to watch the “news” and read social media with a different lens than before, we need to look at how that new lens affects their vision for our marketing messages. Here’s just two examples.

Testimonials

These have been the foundation of marketing since the beginning of time. They’re claims from one customer at a time about how products or services changed their worlds. We’ve used them, believing prospects will believe them if we attach them to a real person. Perhaps not so much anymore. Celebrity endorsements have been decreasing in influence rapidly for the past few years. We all know celebrities can be bought for the public appeal of their personal image, and that many are willing to put their mouth when the money is, and so these appeals don’t influence our purchasing choices like they used to. The same is holding true for ordinary people testimonials. Especially as more brands offer to reward us for posting reviews about them.

A testimonial is only true for the person speaking, and at the time they wrote the testimonial. Their truth may not apply to someone else, and it may not be true anymore, due to subsequent experiences with the brand involved. Testimonials can also backfire, as the prospects will expect to be just as delighted as those customers they believed, and the reality is that this is not likely the way it will go. Ever. As all customers’ needs, expectations and experiences are as different as the individual using the product or service. We see and judge life’s experiences through lenses of our experiences, culture, expectations, social situations, life’s challenges, and so much more.

Product Claims

Time to drop the hype. We’re so used to making self-proclaimed endorsements of our competitive advantages, product quality, results generated, and so much more. If anything has come out of the “fake” news movement, it’s that we are learning not to believe hype and claims that can’t be substantiated. We marketers need to start writing more like journalists were trained to write decades ago, before they cared more about ratings than news or truth. When I attended to journalism school as an undergraduate, our work was thrown out if we used adjectives or made suggestions that were not attributed to quotable sources. This needs to become the new norm for marketers, many of whom were raised to use big words, project big claims, and spark curiosity, and then explain later.

Many consumers today have become jaded, skeptical, and cautious to trust, and for good reason. They have been bombarded with “fake news,” “fake promises,” fake claims,” and more “fake” truths. Generation Xers, Millennials, and the up-and-coming generations are learning not to believe more than believe. There are a lot of reasons for them not to trust what they hear or see. TV and digital and print news can be manipulated with Photoshop and other special effect tools. Video and comments from spokespeople can easily be taken out of context and, in reality, we are learning to expect that they are more often than not.

What Marketers Can Do About Truth

Marketers can overcome this jaded vision of the world and brands in business today by addressing truth firsthand. You can do this by creating more interaction between your brand and consumers online and in the real world. Let customers experience what you are all about — your products, your persona, your values — more than reading your carefully crafted statements. Apple’s stores are a great example of how this can be done. The atmosphere is open and engaging, not stiff and overwhelming with merchandise and sales signs popping out in front of you at every corner. They simply ask how they can help, educate you about their technology and your options, and let you explore and experience the products for as long you want to, in an engaging, no hype, no hard-sell setting.

In short, “truth” is not in the written word or video snippets, but in the actual experience of each customer. Creating personal realities that are meaningful and relevant should be every marketing team’s top goal.

Active Investing During a Market Correction | Is There a Marketing Data ‘Correction’ Under Way?

During most market corrections — when the Dow drops by 10 percent or more — equity investors are reminded to take a long-term view, and to sit tight and ride it out. Most corrections don’t result in bear markets, after all; particularly when market fundamentals are strong.

market correction
Creative Commons license. | Credit: Pixabay by geralt

During most market corrections — when the Dow drops by 10 percent or more — equity investors are reminded to take a long-term view, and to sit tight and ride it out. Most corrections don’t result in bear markets, after all; particularly when market fundamentals are strong.

This is not a financial advice post, however.

We are undergoing a market correction of another sort, perhaps more aptly described as a marketplace correction. Except there are no pullbacks or declines here — it’s instead about protecting and projecting long-term growth. This correction has been under way at least since 2017 (and arguably before that), when Procter & Gamble’s Marc Pritchard made his urgent address at IAB’s Annual Leadership Meeting — and IAB CEO Randall Rothenberg reminded us to get out of the “fake anything” business. This correction continues in 2018.

In this market, we are the investors — holding active positions in the long-term health and well-being of the data-driven marketing marketplace. And the last thing we should do is “sit tight and ride it out.”

We all have an active role to play in “steering in a new direction,” for example, in making sure human activity, not bots, are the brand engagement and performance metrics we are measuring – and compensating.

The bots are usually associated with programmatic media buying, which dominates the buying and selling of digital display — where the majority of media buys are very much legitimate, but not wholly so. The “walled gardens” — largely, the social media platforms, among others — too have had to answer to policymakers as to why and how their targeting algorithms have been being duped by ill-minded foreign agents. How do we bring transparency to the social advertising we see — at least in political ads, where labeling and disclosures rules are now in force across other media categories?

But one of my clients — Stirista CEO Ajay Gupta — reminds us that it isn’t just online ads where fraud may be being perpetrated: Even email campaigns can be undermined by fake accounts, running up open and click-through rates which falsify an accurate reading of results.

We don’t need a European-style “data protection” law that would strip the digital marketplace of wholly beneficial intelligence — and hurt business, innovation, competition, journalism and diversity of content in the process. We also don’t need to denigrate the proven value of third-party data in if and how we append our first-party data, gain deeper understanding of our customers and build better models in the process. Both of these “throw out the baby” outcomes would be recipes for failure.

But we do need to tend to our long-term growth — keeping focus on end-users (consumers) and the brands and publishers who seek to employ intelligent and responsible ad tech, marketing tech and relevant data to give customers more precisely what they want.

We need to be active investors — more so because we know precisely that market fundamentals remain strong. Fraud is fraud. And fake is fraud. But advertising itself is not fraud, and neither is relevant content. We — the purveyors of advertising, marketing and relevant content — are victims of fraud, too. And we have the most to lose if we don’t audit our data sources, document and validate actual customer and prospect permissions and preferences, decoy our data and networks, test for bot fraud, and isolate and eradicate bad players.

There are great minds who have come together to tackle these issues — through our trade associations, self-regulatory programs and working group initiatives. As data-driven marketers, we may no longer choose to be passive by-standers — and simply ride it out. Be involved — and stay involved is the best course of action. We are active investors because we all have a stake in growth.

Lest we forget just how successful we can be, investors usually get burned when they pull completely out of the market. So it is with data.

A Listing of U.S. Trade Associations — and there certainly are others:

A Listing of Relevant Self-Regulation Programs for Digital & Data-Driven Advertising:

Disclosure: I have an individual membership with Data & Marketing Association, and a client relationship with Digital Advertising Alliance, which is founded by the six trade associations listed here, with the advice of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

‘Truth’ — The Secret Marketing Ingredient

It’s getting harder and harder to watch the news and come away with any sense of what is “true,” what is “fake” or what is somewhere in between. I can’t help but wonder if this climate of disbelief isn’t going to seriously undermine our marketing practice; especially where the liberty of exaggeration is permitted to run a bit wild.

truth in marketing
“truth,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by Jason Taellious

It’s getting harder and harder to watch the news and come away with any sense of what is “true,” what is “fake” or what is somewhere in between. I can’t help but wonder if this climate of disbelief isn’t going to seriously undermine our marketing practice; especially where the liberty of exaggeration is permitted to run a bit wild.

Watching CNN the other evening, in one of its endless self-promotional breaks, the screen showed a simple, ripe apple. A quiet voiceover explained that this was an apple. It went on to say that perhaps some people would say it was a banana and even some would believe it. But the fact is, it concludes, this is an apple. Facts matter.

CNN is to be congratulated. I cannot imagine a better modulation of all the noise out there, of all the serial lies emanating from Trump, his White House colleagues and thousands of talking heads filling the airwaves with every possible version of the “facts.” The point is that “truth” is so hard to find anymore that Big Brother can broadcast almost anything as a fact and a certain number of people will be willing to swear that a ripe round apple is in fact, a banana.

A blogger, writing some time ago in Balihoo about “roles that truth, disclosure and deception play in the modern marketers’ world” and how they affect marketing strategies and campaigns, focused on the danger not to a single sale but rather the lifetime value of the customer. Rightly, he cautioned, “just how dangerous outright deceptive marketing campaigns would be for your business as it centers around your dependence on customer retention, repeat purchases and ‘trust’ buying.” There is that word “trust” again.

In the Wharton School’s fascinating book, “Driving Change,” the authors analyze why some business partnerships are successful and some are not and argue that “trust is the basic ingredient of any of these networking or cooperative arrangements. You need a good contract outlining the deal; but without trust, the contract will mean nothing.” The degree of trust needed by a consumer obviously depends, to some extent, on the value of the purchase or its use. How are marketers to gain the trust of consumers at a time when skepticism is high and growing and we don’t know whom to believe for what reason.

Not surprisingly, the Balihoo article echoes the lament of marketers everywhere that presenting a totally unvarnished picture of most products would be a complete turnoff for prospects. Imagine an airline promoting economy seating by showing what it is really like when it is even close to full? Or imagine a software marketer telling the truth about how long it will really take to get the damn thing to work properly and to learn how to take advantage of all its bells and whistles?

As marketers migrate to talking directly to well-segmented prospects, a bond of trust can be built, communication-by-communication. And if the product or service performance lives up to its promise, the essential trust can be maintained.

But it’s getting harder and harder. Not only do we live in a world where chaos is increasingly trumping order, promiscuity — personal and commercial — is on the rise. Brand loyalty in the face of attractive competition is a diminishing asset. And despite the continuing surge in Internet purchasing, watching the explosion in hacking and fraud (don’t just think Equifax and the 143 million stolen files; even the CIA and NSA can’t seem to protect their most sensitive data). For how much longer are consumers going to want to complete personal data sign-ins?

There may come a time in the not-too-distant future when the best marketing has more real facts, less hype and when all consumers can agree that an apple is truly an apple.