Is advertising a place to tell the ugly truth?
Here, I’m going to try to get you to do something that, for most of us, doesn’t come naturally, something that just feels wrong.
It will fly in the face of your professional training. You will find it very hard to get there by using your normal processes. When you even suggest doing something along these lines, you will face immediate resistance. People may think you’re crazy. People may call you crazy. People may use the “crazy” word to shut down all conversation around the idea and make the discomfort go away.
Most of us believe that marketing is trying to put a good face on our product or service. Most of us look for the benefits. Most of us believe that a certain amount of “positive spin” is absolutely essential to “work that sells.” And most of us have some successes to show for these beliefs.
If your product or service is good, if there aren’t great alternatives, and for a while, this level of marketing communications will probably work. And yet the greats have done something very different. They’ve told the truth that most marketers would view as ugly, and in doing so they have stolen the show, and significant market share.
Nike. Dove. Starbucks. Dominos. Telling the ugly truth is a strategy challengers use to become market leaders and market leaders us to remain market leaders.
Our core client is an organization or brand led by people who are committed to their doing good and being better.
That said, many potentially good organizations have much to feel embarrassed about.
There is a tendency to hide the struggle and the failings and thereby inadvertently hide the hero’s journey. As a business leader I have been guilty of this much of the time, missing the opportunity to engage others with the facts of our very human struggle.
I have sought out authentic entrepreneurs as clients so that I can be continuously exposed to the challenging and edifying example of people who tell the radical truth.
Change agents tell the truth. They believe in radical candor. The look for the truth that remains unsaid. They use it to unblock progress, and it works.
For the company with its heart in the right place, a sort of insane honesty can show confidence and clarity of thought and charm while earning trust. Here are some corporate PR examples, followed by some advertising examples.
Dominos – Our Pizzas Have Gotten Really Bad. https://www.inc.com/cynthia-than/dominos-admitted-their-pizza-tastes-like-cardboard-and-won-back-our-trust.html
Starbucks – We lost the art of pouring espresso. https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB120408358439295953