Posts Tagged ‘truth’

Real honest to goodness authenticity (and we really mean it)

May 6, 2013

I talk a lot about authenticity here. That’s because the best stories, the most compelling storytelling has truth and authenticity at its’ core. It’s not always enough for something to be true, it also has to ring true. That’s a hard lesson to live by.. . I remember many years ago working on an ad, we put a number in there for some fact or another, the number was 100% abosultely true, but it was so large, it just felt… unbelievable. We ended up taking it out because it required too much of the viewer.

I’m all for pushing viewers, not catering to the lowest common denominator as so many ads (political and otherwise) do these days, but you also have to know your audience, and understand their mindset. Like I’ve said before, it’s a fine line between stupid and clever. 

(The Walmart video has several videos all about the same in message and emotion.)

Walmart and JC Penny, both trying to convey a mea culpa of sorts. Walmart of course trying to make themselves something other than the huge behemoth crushing local business and wages, a comapny that treats it’s employees as cheaply as its products. JC Penny fresh off trying to transform itself with Ron Johnson, who ran the Apple stores for so many years, facing falling stock prices and sales.

Both comapnies deserve credit for confronting the elephant in the room, and realizing that they have issues, that shouldn’t be ignored. The question about both of these ads are they authentic in any way?

Is JC Penny really sorry? Are they sorry for not listening or because their changes failed to draw more customers?

Is Walmart really the great place to work and shop they say it is? Just because they say it with happy music and happy customers (and employees) does that make it true?

There’s a story my mom tells… One day the phone rang, my dad answered. “Mr Strasberg,” the voice on the other line asked,”We’re calling for President Nixon….”

“Yes,” my dad answered unphased.

“Yes, we were hoping you could help us with a problem… We’d like you to help us make the President look truthful.”

“I see,” said my dad, “Well, that’s easy, if you want to make the President truthful, then have him tell the truth.”

This is the essential problem with both these ads, and all ads like these ones. The truth speaks for itself. Trust is earned, truth can’t just be created it has to be bought, not with money or air time, but with hard authentic work. There’s no short cut to truth except truth itself. I think both JC Penny and Walmart are going to find this lesson out the hard way.



Reinforcing the “truth”

May 15, 2012

Truth gets thrown around a lot in politics. What’s true? What’s not true? I read an interesting book recently “Storybranding,” that has something important to say about how we ought to think about truth.

In the book, the author talks a little about truth, but he divides truth into big “T” Truth and little “t” truth.  Put more succinctly by Robert McKee, “What happens is fact, not truth. Truth is what we think about what happens.”  The author then says, “Stories don’t create our beliefs. Rather, their themes are like magnets that find and attach themselves to beliefs that already exist.” (Story Branding, p. 215)

That leads to this ad by President Obama.

The execution of the ad is solid enough, nothing earth shaking. I do like the juxtaposition (in college, I tried to use that word in every paper I wrote, might be the greatest word… ever) of Romney’s quotes, how he cares about workers and the like, and the worker’s bitting comments comparing Bain and Romney to vampires. That part was pretty effective.

But I think more important than the elements of the ad itself are the theme it presents. The Obama campaign is working on creating a meme regarding Romney. Here’s the brilliant thing, and it gets to the the reason for my quotes, Obama is only reinforcing the narrative people already have in their minds about Romney.

The idea that Romney is an elite rich guy, who can’t understand working people. I don’t know if that account is factual or not, but given our definitions above, I think it’s pretty true. Take a look at this previous ad:

Again pretty standard stuff except for the last snarky line “That’s what you’d expect from a guy with a swiss bank account.”

I was talking with someone about Romney, and they said, well it’s not like we’ve never elected a rich guy before. That’s right, but it’s one thing to be rich, it’s another thing for people to think that being rich somehow make you out of touch or elitist.

What’s the point of all this? Why am I reviewing two pretty generic Obama ads?

I remember when  Slate Magazine doing their truth watch on the 2000 Presidential campaign with GW Bush and the liar Al Gore. The piece stopped after five articles because the author much to her surprise couldn’t find enough Gore lies to justify a continuing run. The author

The thing is, the stories we carry with us are powerful — like stereotypes, they help us navigate the world (like stereotypes those truths can often led us in the wrong direction too). When we can reinforce those truths with our ads, like Obama does here, and the effect resonates with viewers.

What happens when the “Truth” is against us? I alway thought the best weapon on Gore’s side was Spike Jonze’s unseen documentary — which was the only time I’ve seen him portrayed as a real person.

Romney now has a decision to make does he fight against this meme, this narrative? If he chooses to fight, then he has to proceed very carefully because just protesting will only reinforce the frame people already have.  He has to do more than tell people he’s not an elitist, he has to show them he’s not. If he can’t do that in an authentic way, then he’ll never convince people otherwise. Cause that’s the thing about truth, it’s sticky till it’s not.


You can’t handle the truth.

March 20, 2012

This is a bit of an unusual post.  Usually I reference an ad, but today, I’m going off book.  Don’t know if you have been following what happened with “This American Life” and Mike Daisey.  Essentially “This American Life” ran an episode on working conditions in Apple’s Chinese factories based on Mike Daisey’s monologue.  Mike Daisey’s monologue is a first hand account of his experiences meeting and talking with workers at Foxcomm. I didn’t hear the original story, but it was the most downloaded episode of “This American Life” and sounded like a powerful piece of storytelling.

Only problem, turns out after some digging by other NPR reporters, many of the stories Mike Daisey tells didn’t happen.

This probably breaks some blog protocol, but take a listen to “This American Life” show “Retraction.” It’s a powerful episode and instructive lesson in truth telling, accountability and transparency.

Ok, you back (hopefully)?  Truth is such a funny thing.  Are the ads we produce truthful?  Are the facts true? These are questions political advertisers face every day. What the best attack? How far can we push it? Is it true? Personally, I take the truthfulness of the ads I create very seriously.

This story is a great example of why we owe it not just to the public, but to our clients to be careful with the truth.  Mike Daisey wanted to tell a story that resonated with his audience.  But if he claims the story is true and it’s not, then the audience feels betrayed. My biggest worry about stretching the truth, especially when it comes to ads about our opponents, is that the pubic throws the baby out with the bath water. Meaning, they dismiss the entire story for one or two small lies that might make for a cleaner narrative or make something a little worse than it was or more meaningful.

That’s what Mike Daisey did here, and now he’s done a disservice to his cause.  Where is the truth in his story? Is any of it true?  I sat here trying to figure out what was true and what wasn’t, and even I wasn’t sure at the end of it all.  It makes you doubt the entire narrative he paints.  And what about the next story on China factory workers, will people take that with a grain of salt because of this one?  Probably.

What Mike Daisey did was confuse truth with verisimilitude.  Truth is pretty hard and fast, but verisimilitude is not quite in that realm, its something softer,is the essence of truth, it feels real.  Something can feel real without being true and conversely something can cling to true facts and be a lie.

There’s probably a lot of verisimilitude in Mike Daisey’s worthy story, but by not being honest about the truth, he has compromised trust with his audience.  So, they believe nothing he has to say.  It’s a cautionary tale for all of us.

P.S. “This American Life” is to be commended on how they handled the situation. If you’re gonna make a mistake, this is the way to clean it up. Basically, come clean, be transparent, accept responsibility. A good example to remember when things go bad.

Sometimes we all get too greedy

August 2, 2010

Looks like the primary race for Colorado Senate is now in play.  I looked at a Michael Bennett ad a while back commenting that how dishonest it seemed for him to be playing the Washington isn’t working card, since he is in fact a sitting Senator.

Here’s the latest attack from his opponent:

A bit generic for my taste, more like a haymaker than a knife to the back, but alright.  Unless of course, it’s all a lie.  The Denver Post headline of the ad review says, “Romanoff’s ad is over the top,” then goes on to detail how the facts of the story are basically a lie.

There’s a real problem with negative attacks besides being boring and forgettable, they gotta be true behind a shadow of a doubt.  The campaign has to be able to stand behind the attack 100%.  Now that’s not to say there’s not a short term benefit for Romanoff, and recent polls show him close or slightly ahead, so maybe it’s worth the risk to his credibility in the long term to make the play in the short term (after all, he did sell his house to afford the air time).

It’s this sort of thing that makes people had political ads and politicians.  When ads get greedy with the truth everyone loses.

I’m sorry if what I did upset you…

February 24, 2010

One of my rules of parenting is that I don’t my kids say they’re sorry if they hurt something.  They have to take responsibility for their actions, check on that person, see if they can do something to help the person they’ve hurt, but they don’t have to say sorry unless they’re really sorry.  The point of saying you’re sorry is to take responsibility for what you’ve done, but if you’re not really sorry you shouldn’t have to say it, and face it a lot of times kids mean to hurt each other, they’re not sorry, but they are responsible.

A lot of apologies these days take the form of “I’m sorry if my [insert action here] offended/upset/hurt anyone….” That’s not a real apology, that’s not taking responsibility for what happened, that’s putting the blame on the hurt party.

Which brings me to Toyota.

Toyota never says they made a mistake, they never say sorry, they’re spinning the issue.  Instead of taking responsibility, they’re saying they’re fixing things.  They say “Great companies learn [from their mistakes]” but for the life of me, I can’t figure out what Toyota has learned? They don’t tell you in this ad.  Compare this “apology” with the GM ad, which not an apology was an admission that the company had lost its way.

GM owns their mistakes, Toyota glosses over them, we’re fixing it see?  They say they’re rebuilding trust, but how can they without actually taking responsibility first?  In that major way, Toyota fails the first test of any ad and especially an apology ad, they’re not being authentic — heck they’re not even saying the right things.

It seems the same strategy that got Toyota in trouble in the first place is behind this ad.  I tell a story to folks that my mom told me about my dad: On day lounging at home he got a call, “Mr Strasberg, we’re calling for President Nixon’s campaign.”

“Yes,” my Dad answered.

“We’d like you to help the President appear more truthful.”

“That’s easy,” my dad answered, “Have him tell the truth.” And he hung up the phone.

Toyota could learn something from that story.

VA Governor Race & Authenticity

June 10, 2009

This is a quick post, not a full review.

Two ads:

I admit it, I haven’t been following the Virginia governor’s race very closely, even though it’s in my backyard. It seemed like a slam dunk for Terry MccAuliffe, and if I’m not working on a race, I just don’t have the time to give.

I’m sure there are a lot of “issues” (why is that in quotes? Well, issues tend to be rationales for voting for a particular candidate, not a reason in and of themselves in my opinion) that the election turned on. I haven’t looked at the polling or read any analysis so I’m going out on a limb here, but I can’t help but feel this race turned on authenticity.

Ads tell stories (or they should). Those stories have to be truthful and honest, both in content but also to the personality of the candidate — that’s one of the critical criteria that viewers judge them on. When I saw that MccAuliffe ad, well, he just feels phony to me. I’ve never met the guy, he might be a great guy and maybe he would have made a great governor, but as my Soviet film school teacher Boris said to me (with a thick Russian accent), “Adam, your work is on the screen.” That means you won’t be there to explain to the audience that you were running late so you couldn’t get that perfect end shot or you only had 3 hours to make the spot. Your work is on the screen, it has to speak for itself. And, watching that ad, he feels phony, slick, fake.

Compare that with Deeds’ ad; he feels real, authentic, honest. I like him better, frankly, and I know nothing about him except that I connect to him more. Just watching those two ads, I would vote for Deeds in a second.

Is that a fair analysis? I’d be interested to hear what you think out there on the interwebs, especially if you voted in Virginia.

GM Re:Invent

June 5, 2009

While I’m not sure if this ad falls within the mission statement of the blog, with all the issues around government ownership of GM, I imagine the audience for this ad is as much policy makers as consumers.

That’s a rationalization.  The reality is that I really wanted to review this ad for two simple reasons: 1) it’s not often that I see an ad that surprises me and makes me say wow; and 2) this ad surprised me and made me say, wow.

Reading some of the comments on Advertising Age, I thought I was crazy — most of the  comments were along the lines of this blog post: the ad misses the mark, its not going to change anything,  there’s nothing new here, how does this help GM?

When I showed it to Nora my wife, she had the same reaction as me, “wow.”

So maybe I’m not crazy or maybe we’re just a perfect match.

Form (on a scale A-F): A-

Ads, like movies fall, into genres — a series of conventions: stylistic, subject, sometimes legal requirements.  Think of beer ads or prescription drug ads or hell, while we’re on the subject, political ads or car ads.  Each one might be unique, but they also tend to be similar in many ways not related to product.

Breaking convention can be genius, like this Volkswagen ad (one of my all time favorite ads) or disaster (no examples of those off the top of my head).  I think this ad pushes the bounds of the car ad genre, plays with your expectations, and surprises the viewer with images and voiceover that are at times literal and at times unexpected and lyrical.

I find the images compelling: the runner with the prosthetic leg, the bridge with the sun glaring through, the house being built.  There’s something iconic about the images, though they’re not the usual iconic images.  They speak to resolve (the tattered flag in the hurricane), to toughness.  It’s America, but not the America we’re used to in car commercials.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the copy.  I think this is an incredibly smart and well written ad, conversational in tone, yet conveying important information. “There was a time eight brands made sense, not anymore.” It’s simple and direct; you don’t need to understand branding and marketing to understand what they’re saying.

I also love the quality of the narrator’s voice, not the usual voice of God in car commercials, but strong and matter of fact.

Function (on a scale A-F): A-

Here’s where I think the naysayers are missing the point of this ad.  It’s not trying to sell cars per se, it’s trying sell GM.  Why is that important? Because I think consumer faith in GM is low.  Who would want to buy a car from a dying company that makes crappy cars to begin with?

Watching this ad, I want it to be true.  Odd, right?  I’m not a car guy, I didn’t grow up worshiping at the alter of the American car, yet this commercial taps into something.  Maybe it’s the Hero’s Journey quality: the hero (GM), beaten and humiliated by hubris, must start again, from nothing.  He must rebuild himself, but in this new birth he finds humility and strength he didn’t know he had to create something greater and more meaningful than he had before. Think of the end of “An Officer and A Gentleman”:  Mayo, broken by the death of his best friend, must face his demons one more time before becoming the officer and gentleman that the title promises (thanks to ““The Writer’s Journey,” for the example — a great guide into the hero’s journey for those who dare not brave Joseph Campbell).

Is that too much from one car commercial?  I’m not sure it is.

This ad sets the stage for that re-birth, the RETURN from the dead into the world of the living.

While I did ask myself, is any of this true?  I quickly decided I’m not sure if that matters yet.  I want it to be true, which is enough for now.  It’s up to GM to make good on the promise it’s made here.  A key element to any commercial is honesty and truth. This commercial starts with “Let’s be honest.” And there is an honesty here.  Admitting mistakes of the past is a big deal for any company and it makes me more likely to believe what they have to say after that.

Final Grade (on a scale A-F): A

Why an A?  Well, I added a little extra for effort.  The ad, while not groundbreaking in execution, is honest and very well crafted.  It delievers information in an emotional way.

The ad helps GM to frame their own :60 story outside of the media.  They’re not a company in Chapter 11 (“The only chapter we’re focused on is chapter 1”);  Its a mythic story about a company that was too out of step, too big, and too proud, a company that failed and now sees its sins, a company that is striving to reinvent itself.  That’s a powerful story to my mind.

It’s a story that touches on patriotism and the strength of the American character, it touches on the epic, the Hero’s Journey, and it touches on the angst we all feel in these changing times — facebook, twitter, terrorism, a changing economy, jobs being outsourced, etc.

Of course, the proof will be in the pudding: is this a hoax or real?  I don’t know, but I do know it got me curious to see what GM does next, which is something I would not have said before watching this commercial.

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