“Tell all the truth but tell it slant.”
We’re at an interesting point in the history of communication. Here in the United States, stories about fake news, alternative facts, and a post-truth world are part of our daily media consumption. It can be tough to know who to trust when facts seem to be deteriorating at the highest levels of leadership.
Lies are nothing new. I'd be willing to bet money that as soon as people started communicating with each, we started lying to each other. “Um, no, no I didn't see who stole your wooly mammoth carcass. Burp.”
While lies might be a useful evolutionary tool when competing for precious wooly mammoth meat, in modern society they contribute to the fraying of the fabric of human relationships. If you lie to your spouse, they'll never trust you again, or least not until after you do a whole bunch of work earning back that trust. If you lie to your kids, they'll lie back to you. “Where are you heading tonight?” we might ask. “Study group,” they might answer, as they text their friends that they'll be at the party in half an hour.
So I don’t lie to my husband and I don’t lie to my kids (though I might not tell them the whole truth until they’re much older), but what about my readers?
I’m a fiction writer. You could say I lie every time I work on a story. But I’m a firm believer in the outing of truth through the mechanism of fiction. Fiction allows us to explore situations and emotional reactions that we might otherwise skip, intentionally or not.
Often, it’s a novel that comes to represent a distinguished moment in the history of a culture—think of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, George Orwell’s 1984. Think of Shakespeare. What truths did people learn about themselves through these works of literature?
While readers might garner real-world lessons out of fiction, marketing copy is a different beast. When I write copy for advertisements, blog posts, or articles that are all part of a marketing strategy, truth is always at the forefront. There’s no crying in baseball, and there’s no lying in advertising.
Just like lying to your partner destroys the trust between you, lying to your readers destroys any reputation you might have built as a reliable source of information.
But in our post-truth world, does this matter?
Yes. Because post-truth doesn’t necessarily mean a world in which we blindly operate on the basis of lies. A post-truth world is one in which we turn a discerning eye toward every piece of text we read. Where did this come from? Who wrote this? Who said this? What are their qualifications? What sources do they site? What are their motivations?
Marketing in a post truth world means paying extra attention to the copy that we’re producing.
At Nomad, not only do I work for the marketing branch of the company, I also work for the publishing branch. We publish children’s nonfiction books that are used in classrooms, libraries, and homes all around the world, and you can bet we spend a lot of time making sure every word we publish is true. We have fact checkers go through our books, proofreaders check names and dates, and industry experts weigh in on subtle phrasing that could change meaning.
Yes, this process is timely, and can be expensive. Is it really worth it? Absolutely.
This conscientious commitment to truth extends to my work in the marketing division. The blogs and articles I write for clients are not only engaging and effectively communicate the client’s purpose, they’re also true.
And truth, unlike sneakers that make you lose weight, never goes out of style.