3 Types of Brand Lie


Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones tell us in their recent HBR blog article Volkswagen and the end of corporate spin that the world has changed and that leaders need a new type of honesty that research for their new book (which they are subtly promoting btw!) tells them is Radical Honesty.

Interesting they didn’t tell us that this was their intention at the top of the article or in the title!

Imagine if the title read….Promoting our new book about Radical Honesty.

Radical Honesty they suggest  is amongst other things proactive, speedy and candid and in particular surprises people because the organisation is telling the truth.

All of this is needed they say to create a trusted authentic brand.

Now I wonder why we need a new type of honesty? You are either honest or you are not. The things that differ are the types of lies not honesty.

Well it’s the classic marketing ruse isn’t it? Being sold something we didn’t know we actually needed. Radical Honesty? I didn’t realise I needed that …blimey the world has changed and I could be left behind  I’d better get one!

So I suggest it’s in the lies not honesty where the difference is situated. There are 3 types of lies. Blatant untruths, such as buy this face cream and you will stop aging, lying by omission, such as we have met the emissions target but cheated with a gadget,  little white lies, you thought this was leading brand in the taste test but I swapped them.

It seems Radical Honesty is used to address the second type of lie. The cover up, the biased emphasis on only the good stuff. What we commonly call Spin.

There are then some tips for marketing communications managers brought up to fib for their brands on how to achieve the new norm and become Radically Honest. Basically use every channel you have, tell it warts and all and repeat.

No wonder if Fibbing was the old norm that critical marketing writers like Chris Hackley say marketing has earned a reputation for being mendacious.

Nothing new then to add to what my colleague Simon Kelly at Sheffield Business School hasn’t said before ‘you can’t put lipstick on a pig’ to disguise the fact it is still a pig.

Similarly you can’t ‘re-describe’ honesty to overcome the fact that a lie is a lie.

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