Thursday, June 24, 2010

Truth vs. Honesty vs. Transparency

Back in the last century of the last millennium, there were these Iran-Contra hearings to determine if it was true that Lieutenant-Colonel Oliver North actually participated in the sale of arms to Iran.

It was a big political scandal that prompted lots of politicians and news hounds to point accusatory fingers at a lot of people. But Ollie North was the main subject of their finger wagging.

Of course, Ollie wanted nothing to do with the whole hearing and did his very best to avoid answering every question. And somewhere in the middle of this C-Span moment – exhausted from chasing the artful dodger around the room – some senator or congressman looked down at North and reminded him that the great thing about telling the truth was that you never have to remember what you said before... because the truth never changes.

Anyway, I read this blog post in Ad Age today about branding. In it, Jonathan Salem Baskin (global brand strategist and author) suggests the following: "CMOs shouldn't spin or parse the truth."

Really? Do you need a global brand strategist tell you that? Are you that simple? But wait, there's more.

Baskin goes on to say, "Perhaps CMOs would get a better seat at the executive table if they stood up for doing the right thing when nobody was looking."

Wow! I am speechless. The implications of this statement are pounding in my ear like the sound of 50,000 vuvuzelas. Either Baskin is an idiot or our industry is bankrupt of any intelligence or morality.


  1. I've been advocating honesty, transparency, and 'brand as narrative of reality' for many years now, yet most marketers would rather argue for their brilliance in manipulating consumer perceptions (or just being creatively funny).

    So yes, I must be an idiot. :)

  2. Jonathan, your truth is your advocacy for honesty; that's great. Your axcusation CMOs are morally bankrupt when it comes to telling the truth is idiotic and unfounded,,, unless you have research I don't know about.

  3. Jim, the very premise of brand strategy -- as I've seen it practiced in nearly 30 years of work experience -- is to "find" a position that consumers want/the market allow, and which has at least some support in reality...i.e. the BP example of uncovering facts about alt energy (which were absolutely true) and then providing them to satisfy their consumers.

    This is a textbook definition of moral bankruptcy and yet it's exactly the process that most CMOs and their agencies follow. There are always exceptions (and exceptional individuals) but the entire branding racket is pretty lame in my book.

    Our industry is based on falsehood, not truth. I think it's pretty idiotic to pretend things are otherwise.

  4. Jonathon, please forgive my honesty, but I too have been at this business from the agency side for 30 years serving hundreds of Fortune 500 clients. Your perspective is quite sad; perhaps you travel in the wrong circles. Unless you can produce some evidence beyond your anecdotal experience, I must conclude that you are talking out of your ass. In my experience, "most" CMOs are ressponsible, smart marketing pros dedicated to truth, honesty and transparency. In any event, you might want to deal in facts before assailing an entire industry. Truth.

  5. Jim, I feel exactly the same about your POV, and I wish you well in preserving your fantasy. Three cheers for thoughtful conversation. Adios.