No one likes to be disappointed, but everyone likes to be pleasantly surprised.
This is the theory behind some of the world’s greatest honest marketing campaigns. When you’re honest about the quality of your services, you aren’t leaving customers with unrealistic expectations of what you have to offer, or worse, leave them feeling like you lied to them.
Now, no one is advocating for talking down the quality of your product or service. If you have the best product on the market, by all means, promote it as such! But at the same time, there’s something to be said for admitting where you’ve gone wrong.
It can be charming for customers to see you acknowledge mistakes your company has made in the past, decisions that didn’t go quite as planned, or missed opportunities that hurt like a punch to the stomach. Messing up doesn’t feel good, but it highlights the human aspect to your business and that you aren’t too proud to step up and take responsibility.
Take the pizza chain Domino’s, for instance. Instead of skirting around the fact that its pizza wasn’t made with the highest quality of ingredients, it used commercial ads as an opportunity to say: yeah, our pizza is pretty bad, but at least we know it’s bad—and we’re working on it.
Like anything in life, the first step is admitting you have a problem. If you can do that, who’s to say you can’t also fix the problem? Instead of hiding behind flashy commercials laced with celebrities promoting its delicious new “cheesy crust”, Domino’s said flat out, our pizza is terrible, and followed up with a promise to make it better; even asking for customer input. This campaign has since become a lesson to marketers everywhere of how to successfully execute the “honesty is the best policy” mantra. Customers appreciate the truth, above all else. Flash can get them in the door, but it won’t keep them coming back.
Another example of solid, honest marketing comes by the way of retail giant American Eagle’s Aerie brand, whose message of body-acceptance has delivered success in more ways than one. After admitting to previously retouching and enhancing photos of its models—like nearly every company in the world—Aerie vowed to “keep it real” with unedited photos on its print and digital ads, television commercials, and other marketing pieces.
And when customers pointed out that the models in these unedited photos remained as thin as before and probably didn’t need the retouching in the first place, Aerie admittedly agreed that it needed more diversity in its campaigns and started to include models with a variety of body types, races, ages, and ethnicities. Especially in an industry that can feel inundated with unrealistic marketing, Aerie recognized an opportunity to make good through honesty, and has proved that sometimes, what’s real can sell better than what’s not.
If honest marketing campaigns can teach us anything, it’s that telling the truth is hard to do, but it can also be well worth it. You don’t have to bash your own product or call yourself a failure, but owning up to mistakes is a great way to show your customers that you aren’t perfect, and at the end of the day, that’s as relatable as it gets.