Sunday, November 20, 2005

The truth works.

Last week, I walked past the window of a Huntington Bank (OOPS. LET'S GIVE CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE. IT WAS CHARTER ONE.) branch. There, tucked away in relative anonymity on the glass, was a line that read, "Realistically, you're probably never going to love your bank. But we're working hard on a long, extended like."

I'm probably paraphrasing – the actual line might have been crafted better. What struck me, someone who finds himself more and more resistant to advertising even as I work to create it, was the way this simple little line was so winning. It wasn't in some massive four billion point font either. In fact, the innocuous location on the window probably meant that either the folks in corporate marketing or this local branch were reluctant to embrace it.

Reading this little line led me to think about the rush by many marketers to what the industry has often referred to as stunts. Now, I certainly don't think that all of these stunts are a waste. There are plenty of them that I've loved – the soccer players on the side of skyscrapers for Adidas and Burger King's subservient chicken spring to mind – and I generally admire the agencies that have created such clutter-busting, buzz-making work.

I'm just not sure how deep these efforts go. Beyond the initial awareness they create, do these investments – usually quite significant – forge deep connections between people and brands? Or, more precisely, do they work as well as a simple, quiet statement of truth?

In our personal interactions, we're usually more inclined to seek out lasting connections with those who offer a certain blunt honesty. In fact, a self-deprecating nature – albeit one that stops short of self-loathing – is something most of us appreciate. For instance, we are less likely to engage the sort who arrives at a party in, oh, I don't know, johdpurs and a top hat because theyr'e c-c-c-crazy, than the person who is simply an interesting, straightforward, skillful conversationalist.

Of course, one great stunt that gains coverage across all kinds of media does have real value. It will create awareness among millions of people. The little headline on the window of that local bank branch will never do that. But if marketers were to invest time, money and energy in creating millions of honest, transparent connections with their customers, I think they would enjoy handsome returns.

Naturally, if money was no object, I'd still probably recommend a few stunts along the way. But considering today's marketing-resistant consumer, a relentless commitment to truthful communications might be the most intrusive approach available.


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