‘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.

Author: Peter J. Rosenwald

Peter J. Rosenwald is an expat American living and working in Brazil; founder and first CEO of Wunderman Worldwide, International Division of Wunderman agency) and first chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi Direct Worldwide; strategist and senior executive in charge of building subscription and data-driven marketing for Editora Abril, Latin America's leading magazine publisher; founder of Consult Partners, active strategic marketing consultancy working in Brazil, U.S. and U.K. International keynote speaker on data-driven marketing and author of "Accountable Marketing" (Thomson), "Profiting From the Magic of Marketing Metrics" (Direct Marketing IQ), and "GringoView" blog author for Brazilian Huffington Post. With an international perspective, my blog's purpose is to share my maverick views of this business I've spent the last half-century working in, enjoying and observing.

8 thoughts on “‘Truth’ — The Secret Marketing Ingredient”

  1. Internet put everyone into their own comfort zones, and people consume media to feel validated, not to get any new information. In this self-centered environment, personalization of messages is the only way to get through to consumers, but it gets harder as data privacy concerns are raised. This truly is an interesting – to say the least – time what we are living in as marketers.

  2. Thank you for your comments Ms Glass. Of course it is an opinion piece and one shouldn’t be discredited for having and stating an opinion. That’s a maverick characteristic.
    And about the lies – the NYTimes fact checkers say there are on average 5 per day from our Liar in Chief. But how can we know that the fact checkers are telling the truth?

    1. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if, in fact, The Donald wasn’t caught in a lie so frequently. I know “they all do it,” but Trump is setting a world record, grooming us for a world where we run entirely on cynicism, with no faith in our institutions or checks and balances.

  3. Mr, Rosenwald, there’s an endless stream of lies from both sides of the aisle. I don’t read this publication to hear your political bias. We’re bombarded 24 hours a day with Trump bashing and CNN attack pieces. Let’s stick to marketing and remove politics from the discussion.

    1. Mr. Tietjen:Sorry I missed your comment earlier. You are right, we are bombarded pro or con Trump.

      But the point of the piece was not to broadcast my obvious political bias but to endeavor to get my marketing colleagues to understand that the landscape is changing and because there is so much untruth out there, some greater concentration on presenting truth may, in fact, be the new secret ingredient of successful marketing.

      1. Thank you Peter, the plethora of schlock advertising,promises and news has created arbitrary “truth”. Piercing that veil of skeptism today requires creating and showing results in advance. That’s the only truth people will believe.

  4. This reminds me of the all-too frequent conversations I have with new members of my marketing team. We sell products with features –– and benefits, of course. I can’t tell you how many times a novice, newbie, fresh hire will ask, “can’t we just fudge the facts and really hype the product?” To which my reply is, “and where do we stop making (expletive deleted) up?” Apparently in the “real” world, the sky’s the limit!

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