Close up of a women's face as she looks to the left. Her face shows an expression of surprise, and her nose is unnaturally long in the style of Pinocchio after telling a lie.
Trust is a hot commodity in the modern world. As folks navigate the seed of doubt sown in the proverbial soil of society, they seek out roots of certainty. In advertising, honesty remains the best policy.

How to Tell the Truth in Advertising (and Why You Should)

It may seem hard to believe, but people tend to be more honest than not. Contemporary research indicates that most people only tell one or two lies a day. Granted, this research relies on self-reporting, but it makes sense. As social, community-reliant creatures by nature, trust is an essential component of human evolution and lays the foundation for civilization. It’s when trust is breached that social cohesion breaks down, whether it’s between romantic partners, governments and their people or brands and their consumers. Discovering you’ve been deceived is distressing. It shakes our sense of reality and it’s embarrassing. Dishonesty violates an innate sense of how humans should operate. Once trust is violated, it’s hard to earn back. 

While the relationship shared by brands and their audience is commercial, it’s still human. Because humans are most likely to err toward dishonesty when there’s something to gain, those humans tasked with selling products or services have historically had a tenuous relationship with the truth. And, historically, it has been bad for business. 

So how do we stay honest in marketing while still drumming up excitement for brands? We’re glad you asked: 

1. Find the Right Fantasy and Root it Reality

An important aspect of advertising is indulging our audience’s fantasy life. Fantasy isn’t a bad word; it’s actually a really important aspect of the human mind. Fantasy is how children fill in gaps of knowledge while their minds develop. As adults, fantasy informs us of our values, dreams and goals. Values, dreams and goals are precisely what advertisers are tasked with appealing to. Brands are created to fulfill a need or want that people have, and a brand’s survival depends on consumers choosing their product to achieve those specific ends. 

The fantasy mind is what’s at work while consumers weigh their options, and the reality mind is what’s at work when consumers use them. They know that buying a certain pair of shoes won’t make them an NBA All-Star or that buying their child an educational toy will ensure that she grows up to be president, but advertisements like this appeal to the aspirational worlds of consumers. They draw them into a story that feels good and appeals to their dreams and values, while providing a product that successfully meets their actual needs. Fantasy is an effective tool.

2. Focus on The Real Value 

Dishonesty in advertising often comes in the form of guarantees, promises and exaggerations that a brand’s product can’t actually meet. While the Lanham Act prohibits explicit misrepresentation in advertising, the subjective nature of language enables brands to find dishonest workarounds. This tactic exploits fantasy to draw the audience in, but when the reality doesn’t match the words, it destroys a brand’s credibility. 

Online reviews and word of mouth information sharing can quickly dismantle the stability of a brand that has been dishonestly advertised. For example, imagine a product that is designed to meet the needs of lower income consumers but lacks the quality of more expensive counterparts. An advertiser may be inclined to say that it’s just as high quality as the pricier option, but simply costs less. The end result is a consumer who feels they’ve wasted their time with a company that doesn’t tell the truth. 

The smart business choice is the same as the ethical choice. Highlight the needs that are being met: cost-effectiveness and function. No product or service is perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. Telling the truth doesn’t mean oversharing the drawbacks. It means not promising something is what it cannot be.

3. Avoid the Lie of Omission

Johnson & Johnson has been under intense legal scrutiny for some time over claims that their product has been linked to cancer. When lawsuits revealed internal documents from the company demonstrating that they’d knowingly withheld knowledge of asbestos contamination in product samples, trust in the brand was shattered. Rather than issuing a recall or including a warning, they continued to guarantee the safety of their baby powder. These revelations have cost the company billions of dollars and their breach of trust has had a wide-reaching impact, even beyond their target market for baby powder. 

If there are known drawbacks or risks, it’s important to find honest ways to address them, both in advertising and product improvement. Think about payday loans: they bury the lead that failure to repay by a certain time results in massive interest rates. Their dishonesty has earned them the title “predatory lenders” and brought them under the scrutiny of legislators. There’s an opportunity to be honest about the risk that can still effectively advertise the brand. “Get the money you need. Replay without interest within X days.” People get the chance to understand the risk before they take it, and can choose if a loan is the right way to get out of their bind. 

Honestly Disrupt the Market with Bullseye Media

Bullseye Media’s team of deft advertisers knows that the best stories are the ones we believe in. We represent a wide range of brands whose products and services provide meaningful benefits for their audiences. We use proven SEO tools to get our brands top-of-page while crafting honest, engaging creative content to keep them top-of-mind. We tell your brand’s story well because we believe in it, and we won’t put you in the position of fudging the truth to make a buck. We bring honesty into our client relationships as well. We foster relationships that prioritize teamwork and open communication, while backing up our strategies with proof of concept. Telling the truth is more fun than fibbing, and it’s much better for business. Contact Bullseye Media today for ambitiously creative, results-driven ethical marketing.