The Advertiser That Cried, “Wolf!”

Used Car SalesmanI was helping a salesman advertise the auction of a small house in a depressed area. He had typed the text for me to use, including “charming Cape Cod.” I’m not sure how charming the single-story home proved, but I knew it wasn’t a Cape Cod-style home. When I asked him about using the headline, he retorted that telling the truth wouldn’t help sell the place. He said that if he gave the public a true summary, nobody would come to the auction.

Thankfully, that’s the nadir of purposeful deception requested of me. But I confront exaggeration and hyperbole almost daily. I can’t tell you how many times “great investment opportunity” finds its way into advertising headlines and bulleted lists. “Unlimited potential” sneaks in there, too. Recently, I’ve even seen a lot of “once in a lifetime opportunity.” We’ve all been conditioned to know that cozy means cramped, quaint means cheap, and cute means small. “Handyman’s dream” means “run down” in every real estate guide I’ve ever read.

Once, I asked a real estate broker why almost all of his properties were dubbed exceptional, “So, which one of your properties is the rule, if every one is the exception?”

His pithy response rang along the lines of, “Well, my properties are the exception to what’s available out there.”

The public who regularly intersects with your advertising learn to disregard these statements, just as the town folk grew numb to the boy who cried, Wolf!” Potential buyers can tell from the pictures, description, and context of the property (real or personal), whether what you’re describing matches your assertions.

Someday, when you’re selling the BIG ONE, you’ll want them to know how rare and valuable a deal you’re offering. To maximize that impact, you need to exercise humility and implement honesty in your current advertising. So, communicate the mood of the subject positively; sell the sizzle; avoid triteness; and give as many objective descriptors as you feel necessary.

This will also help defend against buyer’s remorse and post-bidding-excitement anxiousness. Your brand integrity, among other factors, is greatly shaped by how authentic the public interprets your marketing. Advertising integrity will build your brand in a culture that rarely fully discloses reality but flocks to companies that do.
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Skepticism runs rampant in our Photoshoppable culture. We’re wary of the promises in emails. We look for the fine print in ads and joke about the fast-talking disclaimers ending commercials. We distrust the pictures in tabloids and avoid used car dealers at all costs. Fueling this is the growing knowledge of how to cover the truth online and in print. Kids build identities on myspace; single adults create personas on dating sites; and Christians construct Sunday facades.

I’m slowly learning how to be real and vulnerable to those around me: my clients, my church mates, my old college buddies—even my family. There’s a danger that they’ll think less of me or even build distance between us. Worse, it could all reflect poorly on Christ; too often, it does.

A recent consultant evaluation of match.com listings considered the self-marketers successful who weren’t afraid to advertise their idiosyncrasies. The balance were trying so hard to attract everyone that they attracted next to nobody. I’m that way often with my faith. So, I’m working toward a Ryan-colored, consistently-godly testimony but not toward universal acceptance and admiration. Van Zant sings ” it’s better to be hated for who you are than loved for someone you’re not.”

It’s not easy, but I’m finding it to be true.

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