The Cost of a Lie

We all took one on the chin a couple of weeks ago. We marketers, that is.

When Spirit Airlines was fined for deception in its advertising, it simultaneously lowered our esteem in the eyes of our fellow citizens and made our daily jobs incrementally more difficult. This is not to point the finger of guilt solely at Spirit.

In an earlier post, I mentioned the efforts of the British ASA, which even if some of their judgments border on the absurd, has helped improve the accuracy of some advertisements in the U.K. But really, whether or not marketing—as a profession—earns or even deserves the respect of consumers depends less on the rulings of independent commissions than it does on our own actions. The industry will get the brand it deserves.

When I started in this business almost 20 years ago, my father gave me three books to inform my first experiences. One of them was the American volume The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard. Written in the pre-Mad Men 1950s, Persuaders lays out one view of marketing. In Packard’s opinion, people need to be deeply suspicious of marketers because they see our most visible tool, advertising, as some sort of dark art. This theme, later picked up by Wilson Bryan Key, among others, suggests marketers are just master manipulators employing visual sleight of hand and conjuring tricks to part the hapless consumers with their hard-earned pennies.

It’s not dissimilar from portrayals of the snake-oil salesman in Western movies.

At the other end of the spectrum are evangelists like my father (and now me) who believe that the role of marketing is to understand and inform customers. We help companies to deal with market externalities by improving choice and competition to the mutual gain of both the consumer and the firm. In fact, the role of marketing (not just advertising, which is just a small component of the wider discipline) is to ensure that companies exist through the mechanisms of supply and demand to meet market needs.

I suspect that this slightly purist view is even more accentuated among those living and working within the B2B space. In business-to-business, the products, decisions and purchases are more complicated, more involving and quite frankly more important.

Though nutritionists may dissent, the purchase decision for a piece of medical imaging equipment has more immediate impact than choosing a fast-food restaurant for lunch.

It would be disingenuous to suggest that we at gyro don’t work very hard to create for our clients a profitable and sustainable competitive advantage. But we achieve this through market insight and relevant ideas.

It’s what I call the creative multiplier effect.

And it begins with the truth.


by Danny Turnbull
General Manager – gyro Manchester

Cross posted at Ignite Something on the Forbes CMO Network

Follow Danny on Twitter @TurnbullDanny