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The word "story" and the word "lie" – or, less in-your-face, "prevaricate" – are often thought to be synonymous.

They often ARE synonymous.

The marketing & advertising world is full of all sorts of examples: skin lightening creams; all the, um, "enhancement" products for one’s "masculinity" that keep spammers in business; bait-and-switch electronics ads in local papers; anything that says "new & improved"; decades of "cigarettes won’t hurt you" ads. The list is almost endless.

This isn’t a recent phenomenon, either – H.G. Wells famously remarked, "all advertising is legalized lying."

Given the perception that all marketers are liars (a shout-out to one of the smartest dudes on the planet, Seth Godin), what’s a poor marketer to do?

Here’s a revolutionary idea: tell the truth. It will set you, and your customers, free.

This will have a payoff in traditional marketing. And it will be a huge plus in online/social media marketing campaigns, because that’s where the truth will out in a NY nano-second.

SXSWi, the interactive media conference that’s part of the annual South X SouthWest festival, went so far as to offer up awards for the worst social media campaigns of the year, Suxorz 2007. Some of the nominees?

  • Wal-Mart, for the heartwarming Jim & Laura/Wal-Marting Across America blog, written by a couple who was criss-crossing the country, blogging tales from the road and spending their nights in their RV in Wal-Mart parking lots. A great idea, full of great stories of the great folks who work at Wal-Mart. Problem? Wal-Mart paid Jim (a professional photog) & Laura (a freelance writer). So much for truth in heartwarming…
  • HP, who paid a Chicago mom $1000 to have her kids smash a digital camera with a hammer, on video, because "it wasn’t an HP camera", and post it to her blog. Hey, I’d love it if someone offered ME some cold, hard chedda for blog-space…but isn’t that called "advertising"? And shouldn’t it be labeled, um, "advertising"?
  • Revenge of Rahodeb. "Rahodeb" is apparently a handle used for several years by Whole Foods founder and CEO John Mackey on Yahoo Finance to post praise for Whole Foods (and its CEO), and heap invective on a competitor, Wild Oats. And I thought vegans were, like, non-aggressive, dude…

There were others, including Molson Brewery for a lame attempt at a Facebook tie-in and Rudy Giuliani for starting a MySpace page for his campaign that unfortunately didn’t allow anyone to ‘friend’ him (um, Rudy – that’s the whole POINT of MySpace, buddy. BUDDIES.)

The winner? HP for the smash-mom pay-for-post big fat paid lie.

Bottom line? When you work on what story to tell, don’t work too hard. Make it real, make it simple…and make it TRUE. The whole world literally IS watching.

Just ask Elliot Spitzer.

That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it…

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