Marketing and Politics in a Lying Age

“Trust.”  That’s the fundamental building block for personal relationships and business transactions.  Without it, there’s no basis for working with a person or a company.  None.

Perhaps the worst decision in the history of advertising was acceptance of the creed that “perception is reality.”  Or worse, there’s the quote attributed to a well-known therapist that “there is no reality, only perception.”

Lost along the way is the older adage: “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”  Further, once you have  fooled a person, he or she will  mistrust what you say.  It takes years to recover credibility once you’ve lied to someone.

Ads are promises.  The (should) showcase product features, but they also promise benefits.  Sign up and you’ll receive good service.  The product will be reliable and safe.

Chevy is trashing its credibility now through a series of creative ads about the Cruz car  model.  Yes, the car has some wonderful electronic features. However, it’s not “magical.”  That word is cute, but should never have appeared in an ad.  I had occasion to rent one last week and discovered that it has horrific gas mileage and — with the A/C on max — all of the acceleration of a  cardboard box.  People who buy it based on the ads are likely to be disappointed, and disappointed customers aren’t repeat customers.  Why would any business want that?

Chevy has built inferior products in the past, and been hurt by them.  It took years to rebuild its reputation, and now the company is repeating past mistakes.  If that’s the best GM can do, short the stock.

Volkswagon learned the hard way that lying about emissions would damage sales.  The damage will take years to undo.  When you lie about software, who’s going to trust you when you say the problem is fixed?  How can you prove it?  What else might be wrong?

Comcast has a history of poor customer service.  Their current ad campaign and “service guarantees” won’t fix that.  (I’ve already cashed in on the guarantee when they failed to make a service call on time.)  It will take years of very good service before consumers believe Comcast has improved, and any slip will convince consumers that the ad campaign is a smokescreen for continued poor service.  And Comcast wonders why so many customers refuse to spend on add-on services.

Advertising has to be based on objective reality.  Tell the customer all of the good things the product does, but don’t over-promise.  Once someone buys your product and discovers it is not what you promised, not only will you have  an unhappy customer, but you will have lost the ability to communicate with that customer.  He or she won’t trust what you say.

Why are Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren such potent political figures?  In all of Washington, they are among the few people most voters trust. People accept their statements as honest, regardless of whether they choose to agree or disagree.

Bill Clinton remains a charismatic speaker, but his ability to influence has been diminished by loss of trust.  Donald Trump’s willingness to speak before thinking has cost him as well.

For many people, “politician” is simply a synonym for “liar.”  Lack of trust also explains the failure of the current crop of politicians to be opinion leaders.  That’s the legacy of “spin.”

The cost of lying in business is lost revenue.  The cost of lying on politics is losing the ability to lead.  Both are heavy prices to pay.

We need to refocus marketing and advertising on reality.




  1. Perception = Reality is a dangerous idea and one should not be fooled into thinking this.

    Because big companies are competing in a global setting (and not just nationally), I think product/service quality becomes more important than ever. Social media users will quickly point up which products are good/bad and call out on bad marketing. This could sway people’s opinions and buying habits (and potentially the markets). A company’s worse fear is to have not enough customers. Consumers as a whole have more power than they think.


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