I’ve been thinking a lot about the stories marketers tell. The best ones, of course, are those that are memorable, impactful and true. Sadly, so many marketing stories amount to little more than creatively-dressed lies.
When I come across misleading marketing, I wonder whether the storytellers intended to lie or whether they were misled, themselves.
It is possible to tell a lie when you think you are telling the truth. For example, the people who work inside a company often become loyal to the place where they work, and by association, to the products or services their company sells. It makes sense. We spend a lot of time at our jobs and the people with whom we work can sometimes feel like an extended family. We like to think well of ourselves and our families, and we want to believe the things we and our families do are both high quality and high integrity.
Sometimes a brand is a direct extension of its people, as in a law firm or talent agency. In many cases, it is their names on the door. It is easy to see how those folks would want to believe that the products or services they provide are top-notch, even if they are mediocre. We believe what we want to believe.
In those cases, I have a small amount of tolerance for products that fail to live up to their marketing promise. As a consumer, however, I find the hardest marketing lies to stomach are those which are obviously intended. Here are a couple of examples:
The website Alphaila does a terrific job comparing photos from fast food restaurant ads to photos of the slop those restaurants serve their customers. When you see the products side-by-side, it’s infuriating (and also pretty gross).
Then there is the wide angle camera lens. Have you gone house hunting lately? Online real estate sites like Redfin, Trulia and Zillow are great tools for home buyers, as they allow you to preview homes before wasting your time shlepping all over town on open house tours. The problem is that real estate agents have figured out what fast food restaurants and fashion magazines have long known: photos are easy to alter.
But now home buyers have an online lie detector: Google Street View!
Check out the seller’s photo of this house, which is currently listed for sale in a suburb just north of Silicon Valley. It looks like a palatial home on lush, rolling hills with privacy and breezes aplenty:
Now look at the same house through the just-the-facts lens of Google Street View. Even if you assume the obtrusive tree has since been trimmed, it looks like a different house sitting on a fraction of the land:
There are a few other ways you can use Google to fact-check a realtor’s marketing photos. If you “take a walk” down the block with Google Street View you can see how tightly the builders packed the home into the lot, as well as what the neighbors’ homes and yards look like. Pull back onto Google Satellite View and you can see the Lilliputian backyard. It kind of makes you wish Google could send its photo bots to attend open houses for you!
As marketers, we need to give our customers more credit and more respect. We need to be brutally honest with ourselves and our clients. We need to take responsibility for the messages we craft and send out into the world.
The next time you are working on a brand message, don’t just strive for clever, memorable or viral. Ask yourself: Is the story you are telling also true?