What if Advertising Told The Whole Truth?

Would People Prefer Complete Honesty?

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There are many different types of lies that we all encounter in our day-to-day lives. The writers of the book "Spy The Lie," an excellent account of spotting deception, say there are three main categories of lies:

1: The Lie of Commission.

This is the easiest one to categorize. A lie of commission is a blatant, bald-faced statement that is the exact opposite of the truth. For instance, if someone at work steals your lunch, you see them do it, and they say "I did not steal your lunch," that's a lie of commission.

These are the lies that would make Pinocchio's nose to grow a foot or two.

Advertising rarely, if ever, produces ads that contain lies of commission. There are just too many lawyers waiting to jump on them. Bait-and-switch is a prime example of when these lies are used, but even those are prosecuted.

2: The Lie of Omission.

This is a much more difficult scenario. Lies of omission are not outright lies. They are usually truths, but with something quite important missing in order to create a misconception. For instance, you may be buying a car and the seller will say "it's a lovely motor, serviced regularly, new paint job." What they're not telling you is that it was serviced regularly because it's a lemon with constant problems, and the new paint job is from an accident that car was in.

This is where advertising is most at home. Talk about the benefits; ignore the drawbacks. There is nothing "wrong" with this approach in advertising, you are merely telling people about all the good things your product or service does.

If you're selling a house, however, this is not exactly full disclosure.

3: The Lie of Influence.

Think of this as a little sleight of hand, but with words instead of magic tricks. With a lie of influence, the liar is faced with the fact that the truth is not on their side. The truth hurts them, and they don't want to talk about it.

So, they will give you another piece of information that will try and sway your opinion. For instance, you may ask someone "did you steal $20 out of my wallet" and they'll come back with "I volunteer every Sunday at a soup kitchen, does that sound like something I'd do?" They're trying to influence your opinion with a positive statement.

Advertising loves lies of influence as well. It's why you see so many celebrities endorsing products. They bring a certain amount of influence with them, so you think "well if she drinks it, it must be good." Nope. She's being paid.

Within each of these categories you will find many other types of lies. They include white lies, dissembling, half-truths, exaggerations and fabrications.

Now, knowing what we do about lies, and how they are told, it seems fair to ask the question…would people prefer honest ads, or do they want to be "lied" to?

What if Ads Were 100% Honest?

If we're completely honest with ourselves, we know as either clients, account managers or creatives, we'd be setting ourselves an impossible task.

That's not to say we're not honest in what we do. But come on, no one ever sprays on Axe deodorant and gets chased by women from the Victoria's Secret catalog.

Men don't become more attractive to women when the drink beer. Women don't get a flawless complexion by putting a bit of foundation on.

In advertising, we exaggerate the benefit, and we conveniently say nothing about the negative sides of the product.

What if anti-perspirant ads came out and said "this stuff makes your pits smell nice, but it leaves white marks on your t-shirts. And you will not be any more attractive to the opposite sex." Would this work?

In the short term, yes, it would actually. Because it's a new approach. You could call it "Honest Joe's Pit Rescue" and consumers would rush out in droves because they like something new.

In a movie called "Crazy People" an ad creative was put in the nut house for writing slogans like:

"Buy Volvos. They're boxy but they're good."

"Jaguar. For men who like hand jobs from beautiful women they hardly know."

"Come to New York. It's not as dirty as you think."

"Metamucil. It helps you go to the toilet. If you don't use it, you get cancer and die."

"Come IN the Bahamas."

You get the picture. People went nuts (excuse the pun) for them. Of course they did, it was a movie, and in reality, regular consumers would love the breath of fresh air.

For a while.

Then reality would suddenly lose its appeal, and people would go back to the products that didn't remind them of their less appealing traits.

This was actually tried once, on a brand of cigarettes. They called them DEATH and the packaging was black, with a skull and crossbones emblazoned on it.

The result was incredible. They couldn't sell them fast enough. Guys bragged about how they could "handle the truth" and wanted a product that set them straight.

But after a while. sales slumped. And after just four years, the company closed its doors. It wasn't anything to do with the product itself. It was simply that smokers didn't like being reminded that they were killing themselves. Go figure.

So, do people want honesty?

No, they don't. What they want is the illusion of honesty, wrapped in a beautiful bow, knowing that their hard-earned money is buying a fabulous product or service.

That's the way it is. And it's the way it shall always be.