Marketing in the Post-Truth World

| Marketing 360 Reviews

post-truthWe’ve entered a time where marketing and advertising are more beholden to facts than the news or politics.  

The 2016 presidential election brought into focus a serious problem:  the plague of fake news.  Literally fake news, put out by bogus websites who want to inflame passions and encourage social media sharing of the content.

CNN’s Brian Stelter discusses this issue and concludes the solution lies in the hands of media consuming public.  We must, he says, triple-check the validity of a news article before sharing it, and overall become better at recognizing the various levels of fake news, such as:

  1. Hoax sites with totally made-up news headlines that try to trick you;
  2. Hyperpartisan sites that aren’t lying, per se, but are misleading, because they only share good news about your political party and bad news about the other party;
  3. “Hybrids” that purposely mix a little bit of fact and then a lot of fiction.

Stelter correctly states that these fake news sites are “click bait”.  The goal behind them isn’t just to sway people with disinformation, it’s to gain traffic and revenue from monetized content.

Wrestling Mania

Seth Godin sees a parallel in the world of pro wrestling.  Specifically, that a key part of the narrative is the “fake within the fake”. There is always someone claiming the outcome is rigged, which of course it is.  Then the ultimate diversion tactic:  to complain that the system is rigged – with rigged complaints.  It creates a cycle where you can’t tell the difference between facts, opinions, bullshit, and straight-up lies.

Modern media’s perfect match with Hulk Hogan becomes the danger:

“It turns out that modern media is a perfect match for the pro-wrestling approach. You can put on a show, with your own media, as often as you like. And that show is, to many, remarkable, and so it spreads.

And there lies the danger, the opportunity for pro-wrestling thinking to corrupt our society: When the fans, or worse, the participants, don’t realize that it’s fake.”

The internet gives people unprecedented power to filter their news.  We accept our confirmation bias, intentionally seeking what we want to hear and ignoring what we don’t.  We create our own version of reality – our “pro wrestling universe” – where facts are an intrusion into the way we want the world to be.

Pro wrestling may be good fun on a Saturday night.  But it’s a sad way to deal with the difficult challenges of reality.

Marketing’s New Integrity in the Post-Truth World

Recently, Oxford Dictionary named “post-truth” its international word of the year.  It’s an adjective defined as:

Relating to circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals.

As marketers who use content to influence our target audiences, you might look at the post-truth, pro-wrestling mentality in news consumption and think game over.  When people “choose” facts to match how they want to see the world, how hard can it be to “separate a fool from his money” concocting and promoting any type of marketing story we like?

However, it turns out people are a lot more particular about the difference between facts and falsehoods when it comes to spending money.

Consider the recent problems of companies like Whole Foods, Chipotle, and Volkswagen.  A political website can spread any view it wants on the subject climate change, and people believe what they want to believe.  But find out that a car company intentionally lied about the environmental impact of its engine design or a grocer thinks it can sell a bottle of water with asparagus in it for $7, and we’re outraged.

In fact, the entire industry of reputation management is the result of how consumers will not accept lies or B.S. when it comes to products they purchase.  Today, many businesses are literally reorganizing their management and product delivery to center on customer service.

Consumers go online to get facts about the businesses they want to engage with.  They look to the reviews of other customers for truth rather than listen to the “story” the brand tells them.  In fact, push advertising is dying as consumers ignore what’s irrelevant and avoid what interrupts.

In many cases today, consumers have more information to use and less money to spend.  If you feel like you got ripped-off by a purchase, you stew over the exact amount you wasted.  It’s money you won’t have next month to buy lunches and cover bills.  It stings in a way a far-removed news story rarely does.

It is our odd circumstance today to find that marketing and advertising – once considered a manipulative discipline that stretched the truth – is now more authentic than the news stories that influence our worldviews.  Pro wrestling was once the “fake” tone of an advertisement.  Now it’s the tone of news cycles and political discourse in the post-truth world.

We may not be able to come to a consensus about climate change, but screw somebody out of $500 with a shoddy product and reputation issues will seriously damage your marketing.

The phrase cold, hard, cash denotes how financial transactions are rooted in reality.  Bank accounts are a number we all get, a fact that can’t be bullshitted around.

As a business marketing a product, authenticity of message and quality of delivery are your greatest allies.  Solve a real problem, treat people right, and your marketing will all but take care of itself.

Oxford says post-truth could become one of the defining words of our time.  Let’s hope they’re wrong.

Digital media creates a kind of news mania that blurs facts.  But at the same time, it brings a new level of trust and authenticity to marketing and advertising.

Marketing finds itself in a “post-lies” world where it’s never been more reputable.  That means you can’t easily fool consumers, and efforts to do so can be costly.

People do, indeed, know how to triple-check the validity of a message.  They do it as online customers every day.