On the truth well told – By @JoeDBMelvin

On the truth well told

Since I started at SCA I have been pretty obsessed with this idea of good advertising being, as McCann has coined it, ‘the truth well told’. At first glance it makes a lot of sense as a criterion: good campaigns simply uncover a truth about a brand and then relate it back to some human or cultural truth to give it resonance. Indeed, all of my favourite campaigns seem to do just this. Using ‘the truth well told’ as a creative compass also has the virtue of easing one’s conscience, for what could possibly be harmful about making ads which simply declare truths, especially in a post-truth era?

All of this felt very comforting and logical to me, until something started to itch away in the back of my mind. It happened after I watched Lynx’s ‘somewhere over the rainbow’ TV ad. I thought, and still think, it is one of the best ads I’ve ever seen: I love the way it subverts what Lynx have done in the past. It makes Lynx sexy without being sexist, and in doing so it becomes a lot more compelling than anything they’ve done before. 

But then, as Marc encourages us to do, I ‘sticky’ tested it, and became confused when I was trying to judge its credibility. This is because, despite how good the ad is, it is still in a way lying about what the product will do. The reality is Lynx is more likely to offset rather than attract new romances. I asked Marc about this and the response was that what matters is credibility in relation to the brand rather than the product. On this account, all that matters is that the audience believes the message is ‘on-brand’; telling a truth means telling a brand truth. 

But the problem with this is that Lynx is not just a brand, it is also, first and foremost, a deodorant. When we just focus on telling brand truths, then the products can be in a way whatever we like them to be. Lynx could smell like horse manure for all we care. A further problem is that brands are made-up constructs, so the very notion of a truth becomes absurd when we’re talking about things which are contrived.

How do we reconcile this? I guess we might just have to bite the bullet and say advertising is the business of selling brands not products. And maybe this isn’t as bad as it sounds, after all I think it is the brand which is more important to most people. Consider Apple, very few of us buy their products as a result of carefully considering technical specifications and identifying it as the best option available, most of us buy Apple products because of what kind of person we think they will allow us to become. Very few of us, after realising we can get a much better computer for half the price, feel that we were in some way cheated or lied to. Also, I think it’s wrong to say the product can be whatever we like it to be in relation to a strong brand, there needs to be some tether of truth between the two. 

I find it interesting to think about this muddy purgatory world between brand and product, and how strong that tether actually is. How many young men wearing Lynx actually get laid because of it? How many people delete Hinge after finding the love of their lives through the app? How many wannabe creatives and entrepreneurs actually make it as a result of their macbooks? Despite all this, I’m going to keep on using the truth-well-told as my guide, because advertising is only interested in optimistic, aspirational truths, and that’s what matters regardless of whether they’re truths in a true enough sense.

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