Is Authenticity in Marketing a Lost Art?

authentic marketing

Remember the days when your mom was in search of a good plumber or electrician so she went over to the phone stand (because phones back then were still corded and plugged into the wall so you needed a stand to put them on) opened the drawer and pulled out the big, fat Yellowpages? After searching for what seemed like forever, she would finally find the section she was looking for and then would have to spend the next hour calling each one individually to check prices, location, availability…all the usual stuff. Nowhere in the Yellowpage ad would you see anything listed about the plumber’s blog website, what he likes to do on weekends, or how he likes his coffee. You wouldn’t see photos of his kids Jimmy and Suzy at their first chorus concert or images of the store front with all of the staff lined up perfectly wearing matching polo shirts with the company logo neatly embroidered on it.

Marketing and advertising has changed drastically since the days of the Yellowpages, wouldn’t you agree? Today, marketing has taken on a much more personal role. The Golden Rule of marketing is:

“People buy from people they know, like, and trust.”

In that spirit, social media has taken things to the extreme. Now we know what our plumber’s “stand for”, how they feel about politics, whether they do yoga or not, where they shop, where they eat, who they’re friends are, who their relatives are….the list goes on and on. We know more about people now than we ever really wanted to know. All mom wanted to know was whether or not the guy had the ability to keep the house from flooding due to the burst pipe in the bathroom and whether or not she would be able to afford groceries for the rest of the month after paying his bill. My, my how we humans complicate things.

But things are what they are…so in the age of Social Media vomitting absolutely everything about everyone all over the internet, we come to another issue: Authenticity. This is a huge one for me, as I work in social media marketing. Of course everyone wants to put their best foot forward when promoting their businesses online, right? I mean come on, you’re not going to put “We lost 8 customers last month alone!” on the header of your web page, although that may very well be true. No, you’re going to put something like “With hundreds of loyal customers choosing BlahBlahBlah Plumbing, why would you go anywhere else?” That puts the focus on the positive and doesn’t mention the 8 people who decided to go elsewhere with their business.

So what happens when marketing is taken to the extreme to which the traditional tag line actually becomes boarderline deceitful?

What happens when someone is marketed as one thing in order to pull in customers, but in reality their persona is the complete opposite? At this point the authenticity is lost and it all, in my opinion, just becomes a lie that is perpetuated to make money. This has been my problem with the marketing industry since I started working in it almost 4 years ago, and I have yet to come up with a solution that helps me sleep better at night.

For example, say you have a client who presents himself as a trusted expert on conservation issues. His website promotes him as a “tree hugger” of sorts…there is a picture of him putting his newspaper into a recycle bin, another of him refilling his reusable water bottle in protest of cluttering the earth with plastic disposable bottles…you get the picture. He has articles in his blog touting statistics about this or that and “Top 5” lists of ways to make a difference in your community or how you can work to get a recycling program set up in your neighborhood. He sounds great, right? Sounds just like the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind donating some money to in order to help him with his latest and greatest conservation project…or maybe you’ll just purchase his new book “Green is the New Black” on sale now at your finest book retailers.

But before you drop a nickle, you wanna make sure this guy’s legit, so where do you go to check him out? His Facebook page, of course! His Facebook page looks a lot like his web page because, well it’s going to.

Marketers use a lot of the same images and tweak the copy just a bit so it all gels…it’s called branding.

Everything looks great, so you order your book and decide to make a donation as well…what the heck, right?

Little do you know the reality behind the facad. What you don’t see is what happens when the cameras aren’t rolling…like when he goes home to his apartment and opens a soda, conveniently bottled in a plastic bottle similar to the one he avoided using in public for his water earlier in the day…when people were watching. Or the fact that he lets the water run wastefully while he brushes his teeth. Or that he just signed off on the demolition of a large patch of rare trees in order to make way for his new office building. All of these things are in direct contradiction to his public persona…you know, the one he uses to make money.

Here’s my question…if, as a marketer, you knew about his personal anti-conservation habits, could you in good conscience continue to do his marketing work for him? Would your contribution in the perpetuation of his deceitful lifestyle be perceived as you, yourself being dishonest, or would you be able to default to the usual defense of “I’m just doing my job” or “Me leaving isn’t going to change anything. He’ll just hire someone else to do what I’m doing.” or “I can’t control what he does. That’s on him.” as you go about your merry way? Where is the line drawn between marketing your authentic self and doing honest business and marketing something that looks great but is a load of crap?

I can say, when I first started in this business I had clients like Mr. Conservation…and I had a reeeeealllly hard time working for them.

At one point, one of my clients directed me to use a marketing technique that I feel is rather questionable although it is completely legal and lots of comapnies hire people to use it as well. I, however, thought that if that technique had been used on me and my business…if I had received marketing information from a company in that capacity, I would be furious…and so I, with a heavy heart, left that particular client. It was a difficult choice as I was making good money and got lots of hours BUT, at the end of the day I had to stay true to myself and what I wanted my work and my business to represent.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts and opinions…whether you are a marketer or are just someone who is marketed to…every opinion matters to me. What do you think of people who are willing to distort the truth and spit in the face of true authenticity in order to make a buck…and do you think those who knowingly help market someone who is misrepresenting themselves are willing participants in the perpetuation of the lie or are they simply doing their jobs? Leave your comments below and let’s continue this conversation!

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