Tag Archives: truth in advertising

Winning Brands Tell the Truth

Is-Your-Brand-Truthy

Why smoke and mirrors, misdirection and just plain lying don’t work anymore.

The age of marketing enlightenment is upon us. It’s official buzzword is authenticity, and it’s inconvenient brother is named truth. This sweeping reform movement is enabled by swift communication between consumers online, social media platforms, and review sites. Consumers yearn for relationships with their brands, and betraying their trust can be a costly mistake.

Like political ads, most consumer advertising either says nothing, contorts the truth, or smacks of hyperbole. In a recent commercial, a luxury car deemed itself “The World Standard.” The world standard for what? Does this include the 47 countries in the world that have no knowledge of the brand? And we’re not singling out cars, you can find the same level of pap in ads for everything from hotdogs and laundry detergents to investment bankers and hospitals.

Make sure that your company’s marketing claims are backed by reasons and facts.

Hot air like this is exactly what gets brands in trouble on social media. Like reading on Facebook that your pal’s “World Standard” is leaking water like a flop house toilet.

Keeping it Clean and Honest

It’s not surprising then that some brands, steeped in conventional ad pap for decades, have problems embracing the newfangled authenticity. In reality, you can easily skip over this minefield if you remember two things: 1) Tell the truth. 2) Remember what you were taught about writing in the fifth grade. If you need a refresher course, pick up a copy of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style.

The truth and not telling it, or partially telling it will dog your brand forever on the Internet. When you believe something, you have a reason for believing even if it’s just pure faith. Make sure that your company’s marketing claims are backed by reasons and facts. Maybe you can’t squeeze it all in a Tweet, but you can expand on it on the web and in other media.

In web writing, avoid empty hyperbole like the plague. Don’t claim that you’re the world’s best, finest, or only unless you can prove it. If you’re touting “Drive = Love,” like Chrysler, you better have a Viagra dispenser under the dash.

Weasel words are the second cousins of hyperbole. They give the brand wiggle room, usually for legal reasons, and dilute the claim, e.g. arguably the safest car in America. Anytime you see an adjective or an adverb with an “ly” construction, you’ve got a stinker. Words like about, sometimes, most are also good signs a brand is hedging its bets.

So instead of sounding like an ad from a political action committee, stay true to your brand. Stick to declamatory sentences. Start with a topic sentence. Make it believable. And back your claims up with tangible reasons to buy, or to prefer your product or service to a competitor.

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Will Your Advertising Work without Integrity?

Only 4% of Americans believe that the marketing and advertising industry acts with integrity, according to a 2015 study by the 4As entitled “Sex, Lies and News.”

News is beyond my purview, so let’s start with sex. Consumers who see sex in advertising say it cheapens products and makes them question the creative abilities of the advertising agency. Who knew?

Don’t feel too badly about the lack of integrity thing, because the U.S. Congress only has 2% more credibility points than the marketing industry.

I’d say that makes consumers pretty astute.

So what happened? With social media, review sites and easy access to information, the baloney churned out by agencies has been exposed, if not blown up.

It’s ironic that everyone is racing to make their brands more authentic, when the public thinks we’re lying to them. What happened? I’d say our work has turned into 50 Shades of Fudging It. The reasons are plentiful:

  • Pressure internally and externally from clients to amp up claims and language.
  • The misperception that we work in a Mad Men Style la-la land, which encourages us to take poetic/artistic license.
  • Other brands are lying, so we need to lie just to keep up.
  • We’re kidding ourselves that we know the consumer. And why is that? We believe that research has all the answers.
  • And finally, I think it’s laziness. We don’t fact check, consult multiple sources, go out in the field and interview consumers, and we take our clients’ word for it.

If authenticity is the benchmark now, how do we turn this around?

  1. Hire journalists. They’ve been trained to search for truth, and a lot of them are unemployed.
  2. Use facts instead of adjectives. Prove that a product or service works in the way you’ve claimed, or don’t make the claim. The last line in most pharmaceutical ads is “may cause death.” This is very disturbing. At least give me the Vegas line on surviving.
  3. Understand that great branding is based on reality, communicating it, and integrating it throughout a company. When advertising is more enticing than the consumer experience, watch out. You’re about to take a hit in the integrity category. BP has a beautiful tree-hugging logo, but it sure doesn’t make them environmentalists.
  4. Use facts in advertising, and, when you can, cite your sources. And give credit and links anytime you borrow anything you didn’t produce.
  5. Know that consumers are way smarter than we think. We need to get closer to them. The annual focus group isn’t enough. We need resources to get to know and observe them.

Aren’t these just common sense ideas? Then let’s make it an industry goal to body slam Congress in 2015.

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The New Copywriting: Be Honest, or Else.

Don’t let up on your disgust with ads just because the election is over. Smoke and mirrors, misdirection and just plain lies abound in our day-to-day marketing.

The inability of advertisers to make coherent arguments to sell their product have made social media and authenticity buzzwords. At least on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn there’s a dab of accountability. Refer the wrong plumber to your pals, and you might get kicked out of the Thursday night poker.

Like political ads, most consumer advertising either says nothing, contorts the truth, or smacks of hyperbole. In a recent commercial, a luxury car deemed itself “The World Standard.” The world standard for what? Does this include the 47 countries in the world that have no knowledge of the brand? And we’re not singling out cars, you can find the same level of pap in ads for everything from hotdogs and laundry detergents to investment bankers and hospitals. Hot air like this is exactly what gets brands in trouble on social media. Like reading on Facebook that your pal’s “World Standard” is leaking transmission fluid like a flop house toilet.

Keeping it Clean and Honest in Print and Social Media

It’s not surprising then that some brands, steeped in conventional ad pap for decades, have problems embracing the newfangled authenticity. In reality, you can easily skip over this minefield if you remember two things: 1) Tell the truth. 2) Remember what you were taught about writing in the fifth grade. If you need a refresher course, pick up a copy of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style.

The truth and not telling it, or partially telling it will dog your brand forever on the Internet. When you believe something, you have a reason for believing even if it’s just pure faith. Make sure that your company’s marketing claims are backed by reasons and facts. Maybe you can’t squeeze it all in a Tweet, but you can expand on it on the web and in other media.

In web writing, avoid empty hyperbole like the plague. Don’t claim that you’re the world’s best, finest, or only unless you can prove it. If you’re touting “Drive = Love,” like Chrysler, you better have a Viagra dispenser under the dash.

Weasel words are the second cousins of hyperbole. They give the brand wiggle room, usually for legal reasons, and dilute the claim, e.g. arguably the safest car in America. Anytime you see an adjective or an adverb with an “ly” construction, you’ve got a stinker. Words like about, sometimes, most are also good signs a brand is hedging its bets.

So instead of sounding like an ad from a political action committee, stay true to your brand. Stick to declamatory sentences. Start with a topic sentence. Make it believable. And back your claims up with tangible reasons to buy, or to prefer your product or service to a competitor.

Would you like to hear more about marketing from Ideopia? Signup for our monthly enewsletter, K9.

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