The perils of not keeping it real
I found a spiritual companion on stage at the Advertising Business Group’s First Speaker Series last week. OMD’s executive creative director Haytham Zoghby said something I’ve been saying for a long time: “I hate the word ‘consumers’. They are people.”
Zoghby – along with Naheel Abelall, marketing and communications manager at Biersdorf MENA, and Asad Rehman, who heads up media and digital at Unilever – was on a panel I was moderating with the grand title of The Fine Line Between Creative Licence and Responsible Advertising: How Far Can You Stretch the Truth Versus Distorting it?
McCann, in 1912, copyrighted the phrase “Truth well told” to sum up its advertising, and I quoted this line. Rehman replied with its counterpart: “A lie well sold”, which is another way of looking at advertising. But ( to throw in another over- cited aphorism from the old days of advertising, albeit one that’s on my hit- list of overused quotes),“The consumer isn’t a moron; she’s your wife.”
The industry would do well to remember that. It’s perhaps even more relevant today than when Ogilvy wrote it. Because now she’s your wife with Twitter. People won’t stand for falsehood in advertising. They will let you and the rest of the world know if they feel cheated.
At the same event, Unilever’s executive vicepresident of consumer and market oversight, Stan Sthanunathan, spoke about brand purpose, and Christine Greaves, the regional corporate affairs director at Mars and chairperson of the GCC Food & Beverage Alliance, talked about her sector’s responsibilities when marketing to children.
These are not issues that brands and their agencies can bluff their way through. Never have corporations been so accountable as they are today, and never has the public scrutinised them as closely.
As an industry we must stop thinking of people as mere consumers, as fuel for the advertising and sales machinery that we operate. If you lie to your public through your marketing, or if you feign purpose in search of mere profits, or if you target their children for the same ends, they will see through you and take you to task.
This means that while as an industry we must tread cautiously, we will be forced to do genuine good and become better at what we do and better at making the world better too. That can only be a good thing.
But get it wrong and you will not make the consumers part with their hard earned cash. They will open fire rather than their wallets, and it is the marketer who will pay the price.