Is honesty always the best policy?

Depending on your point of view, Top Gear host and Sunday Times bestselling author Jeremy Clarkson is either speaking honestly or offensively striking at your fundamental beliefs.



What he did achieve this week was to put discussion of the public sector strikes over pension reform right at the heart of the news agenda – and as the first question on the BBC’s Question Time. Though he was claiming to extol ‘balance’, he rather hinted at his distaste for the strikes, at a time when everyone in the economy is being forced to make sacrifices. In that moment, he was being honest, and because people didn’t like it, his contract with the BBC is now apparently at risk.

Apply this thought process to business. Does it pay to be honest? In an extreme case for not, Gerald Ratner derided his own jewellery only for the company to go to the wall.

Interestingly, Seth Godin wrote a seminal text a decade or more ago called All Marketers are Liars which amongst other things laid the foundations for value-based story telling in marketing rather than seductive feature laiden selling. Who are the modern proponents of this approach and what can we learn?

Name some brands that are held in high regard for being honest. Innocent? Virgin? Dove? Apple? Zappos? Why?

And name some that perhaps aren’t. British Gas? BT? Sky? United Utilities? Comet? Again why?

The point I’m trying to make is that I think there is a place for honesty in marketing. Not enough companies strip themselves bare and deliver it. Too much talk about total integrated streamlined efficient solutions. Too much broadcast, too little engagement.

Honesty has to be sincere, genuine and prevalent through all levels of the business, embodied in all employees, and present at every customer touchpoint. Brands that spend thousands (even millions) of pounds convincing customers how great they are, only to deliver late, install incorrectly and then take days to put things right (Comet this very week), can’t claim reliability and service as a virtue.

So, is your business writing cheques that your people and processes can’t deliver on? What can you change to better reflect your strengths and customer value?

2 thoughts on “Is honesty always the best policy?

  1. Honesty is the one thing I won’t budge on. Although I was once told, by several businessmen at a Business Link event, that I was very shortsighted and naive. Well perhaps I am, but “I am what I am”!

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