Commentary

Calling Bullshit: Our New National Pastime

It’s 2010, and LeBron James sits on a stool in a room full of children ready to announce “The Decision” live on ESPN. Every narrative says he’s staying in Cleveland: local boy, best player of his generation, beloved in the community, backed by a solid team and a popular new coach. Why would he get on TV just to break his fans’ hearts?

Then the words, “I’m taking my talents to South Beach,” and “The King” became the most hated man in sports. The velocity of negative sentiment on social media turned LeBron into a selfish, self-absorbed, self-promoting jerk.

Cut to yesterday, when, over my strenuous and vehement objections, I was informed that my security deposit would not be returned following a vacation rental on HomeAway. The landlord had falsely claimed that my family broke a garbage disposal and pocketed my $1,500.

My blood boiling, I clicked “Write a Review” on the HomeAway site, then did the same on Yelp and VRBO, eviscerating the property owners and telling the world about my crappy experience there. If I was going to get screwed, I wasn’t going to go without leaving a digital trail of fury.

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While the only similarity between me and LeBron seems to be our affinity for checked button-down shirts, our experiences illuminate the cultural obsession with calling bullshit. Everyone now has the tools and the platform to merrily call bullshit on whatever they like. Got a beef with a product? Destroy it on Amazon.com Customer Reviews. Had a bad experience at a car dealership? Facebook all your friends away from that dealership. Feel like a food product is making false health claims? Drop by the Leanwashing Index and reveal the truth. Think Ray Lewis, Manti Te’o, or Lance Armstrong isn’t telling the whole truth? You know what to do.

Calling bullshit has become our national pastime.

In a world where spin is wound tighter than ever, it’s only fitting that there’s a democratic and community-oriented impulse to unravel it. Today, our antennae are always up, and we’re ready to pounce with a kind of manic glee when we feel like we’re not getting the truth.

Brands are especially vulnerable when they’re relentless in their spin. Remember Toyota’s dishonest response to their safety issue? Or BP’s disingenuous response to the spill? Those brands are still recovering their brand health. More recently, Maker’s Mark’s decision to lower its alcohol level (and its flimsy “too much demand” rationale) sparked a social media riot and PR disaster for the brand. 

So, how to survive and flourish when calling bullshit is just a click away? It’s simple, really:

  • Be honest. Nobody wants to be friends with a liar, so why not put your best foot forward? And telling the truth needn’t be boring – honest stories can be full of personality, humor, and innovation. 

  • Be radically transparent. Go beyond grudgingly revealing facts and give consumers access to what actually goes on behind closed doors. McDonald’s recent “Our Food, Your Questions” campaign took a big step toward assuaging people’s concerns by simply pulling the curtain back. 

  • Be vigilant. Consider honesty and transparency in every piece of communication. Doing so eliminates the possibility of getting into a Maker’s Mark situation.

Living in a world of constant bullshit calls does work both ways. Because we’ve been trained to quickly and openly broadcast our criticism, we’ve also become a nation that’s quick to point out the good. Staying honest, transparent, and vigilant can also lead to the rewards of stronger trust, loyalty, and ultimately interaction. And it’s tough to call bullshit on that.

4 comments about "Calling Bullshit: Our New National Pastime".
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  1. Troy Johnson from AALBC.com, LLC, March 14, 2013 at 10:09 a.m.

    Unfortunately "Calling Bullshit" is riddled with problems. First, anyone can say anything about anyone without proof, justification or reason. People falsely praise or exaggerate products for friends and other slam enemies with false claims. You can even pay companies to do this for you.

    Second, even if someone attempts to tell the truth; one man's truth is another's lie. The average visitor has no way to distinguish the difference between any of this and are best served by ignoring all of it. Sure your "friends" may trust you -- or not depending on who you are :-) But again, the average person has no way to know if they are being misinformed (or Bullshited).

    Critical critique by a recognized source is better. Or a recognized organization that actually researches complains before making them public is best (ala the Better Business Bureau) for individual claims like yours -- it you don't want to go through legal proceedings

    You just can't have people "Calling Bullshit" all willy-nilly. That serves no one; not the people or the businesses.

    $1,500 is an awful lot of a used disposaler. You should consider legal action.

  2. Ronald Stack from Zavee LLC, March 14, 2013 at 10:22 a.m.

    These are good suggestions on a macro level. On an individual level, it's important to engage and interact with critics. We have found that business owners who initially are afraid of being trashed in reviews gain confidence from knowing they can respond - whether to apologize, tell their side of the story or just provide information.

  3. Alex Lekas from PTI Security, March 14, 2013 at 10:23 a.m.

    "Be honest" is a nice sentiment but it only works in a world of reciprocity. When someone has the red ass, there is no foolproof way of discerning if the irate poster is in the right or full of it. Fortunately, most sites that have reviews have enough of them that the one-off crank can be spotted. I don't expect any product/service to be 100% loved. THAT is the one shortcoming of this social and interactive world - anonymity is a hell of an aphrodisiac for someone with a keyboard. In your case, contacting HomeAway seems a logical next step as your review will otherwise be casually dismissed and you with it. If your story is accurate, you had $1,500 stolen; there are laws against that and that's no bullshit, either.

  4. Kevin Horne from Lairig Marketing, March 14, 2013 at 10:45 a.m.

    Two Observations: (1) Toyota has long recovered its brand health, without much transparency at all ; (2) you are still out an amount of money disproportionate to any sense of "bullshit" justice

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