Honesty was not always the best policy. 1920s "fat reducing soap" ad.

I am an idealist, and maybe I even romanticize things that don’t deserve it. Despite my rose-tinted lens, though, I see one ultimate and timeless key to success in both business and marketing campaigns: honesty. Of course, those with sub-par products and/or services might run into some problems with that.

I recently watched Art & Copy, a documentary about the creative revolution in the advertising industry during the 60s. Internet marketing and print advertising are not synonymous, to say the least. Still, marketing and advertising are closely linked, and ultimately, Best Rank and Wieden + Kennedy share a similar goal: to increase both presence and revenue for our clients, and to do it well. Doing it well requires not only skill but integrity.

Watching this film cemented a value I already held dear: that marketing and advertising are not what Most People think. You can’t blame Most People, though–98% of marketing and advertising they encounter is terrible. Director Doug Pray writes, “Hate advertising? Make better ads.”

We could turn this into a pages-long conversation about the philosophy and ethics of marketing, but it suffices to say that marketing is simply a means of communicating information about services or products that are useful to people–spreading the word, if you will. That, in itself, is a good or at least neutral thing. The way its done is what makes the difference between intelligent communication and an outright lie or condescension. (Read this Copy Blogger article that discusses why fear is killing conversions–fear of being taken for a ride.)

Don’t you hate it when you–an accomplished, intelligent human being– are treated like pea-brained nitwit who can’t make a purchasing decision without first having a bunch of honey-coated persuasion poured down your throat? Me too. Marketers should know this, especially with the abundance of user review resources today. Shoppers are smart, and they deserve a little respect. British advertising Guru David Ogilvy once said, “The consumer is not a moron, she is your wife.”

All of the terrible ads out there that exaggerate effectiveness or replace showing any real use of the product with tear-jerking appeal to emotion are like the spammy SEO companies that give us a bad name. Oh, sure, the Internet is vast and limitless, why not just fill it with link farms and spam blog comments and useless drivel. Just like how the Earth is infinite so we can fill it with zillions of in-your-face billboards and signs and flashing lights. Oh, wait.

Here’s the thing. There is good marketing and advertising.  Here is, in my opinion, the ingredient list for a solid marketing/advertising campaign:

  1. A product or service that is useful/quality.
  2. Honest information about the product or service.
  3. An arsenal of marketing knowledge.
  4. Willingness to take risks to be different (while remaining honest).
  5. The ability to think/execute simply and efficiently (e.g. no fluff in your on-site content).
  6. Client-marketer trust. The marketer must make an effort to understand their client; the client must be willing to trust that the marketer knows the best way to proceed.
  7. Honesty makes the list twice–it’s just that important. Don’t join the fine-print, smoke-in-mirrors, treat-your-customers-like-suckers club. Be transparent, open, and helpful. If you can’t be 100% honest about your product then perhaps it’s time to make some improvements.

I don’t mean to over simplify; there are many elements of a marketing campaign that must cooperate. But laying the foundation is often the most important step in any project from building a relationship to building a house, and good old decency is the perfect groundwork on which to build and distribute a creative, effective message.

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