Are Lies The New Recipe For Ad Success?

If the first half of 2016 has taught us anything, it is that facts and correct behavior are not required for success. First we witnessed how Boris Johnson and Michael Gove contributed to the Brexit with false statements. Then Donald Trump became the Republicans’ presidential candidate. Now we must listen to one absurd and often insulting claim after another from Trump.

Sadly, media and marketing have their fair share of BS and unethical behaviour, too. And I am not only talking about the findings of the ANA transparency report. Last month, two agencies, Saatchi & Saatchi and Banjo openly made sexist and racist comments.

Likewise, more than once I have seen that ad representatives make unbearable claims (“our media plan drove 70% of your sales”) and get away with it. One director proudly told me how a well-known agency leader likes to push sales time after time by making up facts, such as “all studies show that display ads increase sales by XX %.”



Amazing that no one thought of asking for these ‘studies’ or questions the XX [ridiculous high number] % of claimed sales increase? Clients would just need to check their media plan and historic performance and could see that it’s a lie.

Is such behavior of misrepresenting facts a new trend?

Martin Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post, observes:

“There was a time, not long ago, when we would differ on the interpretation of the facts. We would differ on the analysis. We would differ on prescriptions for our problems. But fundamentally, we agreed on the facts. That was then. Today, many feel entitled to their own facts when, in actuality, they are lies."

Why do people deny documented facts and accept lies?

Chris Cillizza from The Independent sees the underlying reason in a new ‘siloing’ movement of people. This ‘siloing’effect is driven by three factors:

1)    We increasingly self-sort ourselves into communities or groups that think and look like us, leading to ideological segregation.

2)    The rise of open social-media platforms like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, have allowed us to create and disseminate any story, no matter if true or not.

3)    We insist on affirming views we already hold.

As a result, according to Cillizza, you can “go through each day as a well(-ish)-informed person without ever hearing a sliver of news that contradicts what you already believe.”

The media and advertising business is a perfect example for a community that loves to stick together (keywords: award dinners and summits), read their own comments and even use their own lingo, metrics and methods. Does this ‘siloing’ result in unreasonable practices?

Manager buy new, untested technologies purely based on promises. Marketers report ‘impressions’ as a KPI. And the heavily flawed last-touch attribution (which is gamed so easily, is still the norm.

The reasoning seems if enough other people do it, it should be alright. In particular, if popular brands and industry figures are involved.

However, one lesson we have learnt from the Volkswagen scandal is that it is prudent not to blindly trust big names. Another lesson is that bad behavior of one actor can punish other innocent players of the same industry. In the aftermath of the VW scandal, Diesel engine sales and share prices of competitors dropped, as well as VW. 

To avoid industry-wide infection or spread of Pinocchio-ism and malpractice, it is the responsibility of everyone to foster ethical behaviour, be sceptical about statements without hard evidence and critically reflect on our everyday practices. Don’t do something just because everyone around you does it.

Only then we can create a healthy and sustainable environment for our industry. The last thing we should allow is an adland dominated by little Trumps.



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