Advertising, Where the Truth Lies

Bill Bernbach said, “The most powerful element in advertising is the truth.” And he has company.

McCann employs a famous slogan, “Truth well told.”

They held the Coca-Cola account for over 40 years persuading global youth to enjoy the real thing in perfect harmony, with nary a mention of obesity or Type 2 Diabetes.

Selective truth then, but certainly well told.

So just what is advertising truth?

If brand X claims to contain ingredient Z and it does, is that enough?

Not necessarily, but regulatory issues aside, advertising truth is clearly not the same as legal, or scientific truth.

Advertising truth is more akin to recognition than any kind of absolute.

It’s flexible; what philosophers term relativism and Stephen Colbert calls truthiness.

Advertising truth is determined largely by how people relate to an ad.

While a jury of 12 will suffice in a court of law, a jury of millions can sit in judgement of an ad.

If a majority recognize the truth of an ad, then it’s probably fair to say the ad is truthful.

I was chatting with a client the other day, reviewing some creative I’d presented.

They were concerned it exaggerated the benefit that their software delivers.

I said, “You know those Dos Equis ads with The Most Interesting Man in the World?”

They replied, “I love those ads.“

I said, “Yeah they’re great, but you know he can't really speak Frenchin Russian*.”

The Dos Equis campaign succeeds not because it’s truthful—it clearly isn’t.

It succeeds, because it’s essentially honest.

“I don’t always drink beer but when I do… ’’, The Most Interesting Man in the World says.

Wait a sec there’s a guy telling me he doesn’t always drink the product.

That’s different, I can trust this guy.

And because of this honesty, the campaign is credible.

In advertising, honesty can wear a certain amount of hyperbole.

Hyperbole is part of the language of advertising and consumers embrace it, as long as it is rooted in credibility.

Conversely, when an ad lacks credibility, consumers tune out in a nanosecond.

They’ve been exposed to advertising all their lives, and are much better at decoding it than clients and agencies give them credit for.

And they understand while truth in advertising is flexible, credibility is mandatory.

Because, put simply, if the consumer believes something, it’s true

Of course figuring out just what a consumer will believe is the tricky part.

But it’s credibility not truth that determines this.

As Seth Godin said, "Facts are irrelevant. What matters is what the consumer believes."



*He can speak Frenchin Russian, is one of many excellent one-liners from the Dos Equis campaign.