Why insane honesty has never been more sane

Doug Kessler / October 2015

The best marketing doesn't look, feel and sound like marketing, so any tactic that prevents your marketing from shouting "MARKETING!" before delivering its message is probably a tactic worth considering.

That's why I love a tactic that I call Insane Honesty. It's something very, very few brands do, but it's a tactic with an amazing track record and a compelling business case.

The basic premise is this: Insane Honesty builds trust. Trust pays dividends. So why not take your product's weaknesses and, instead of hiding them, showcase them for all to see. It's a tactic that great brands have done for decades (VW Beetle's 'Ugly' campaign is a classic. So is Avis's, "We're number two, we try harder."). But it's still a rare brand that dares to be insanely honest.

We all know that the best brands in the world are the brands you trust the most. But it's not often that someone actually tries to measure trust and its impact.

Well, two such efforts hit my radar screen recently: The Edelman Trust Barometer and the Rittenhouse Rankings Candor Survey. Both make me even more convinced that Insane Honesty is good business.

The Edelman Trust Barometer is the 15th outing for their annual trust and credibility survey. It's a big sample and the results are rich. A few lowlights:

  • 63% of respondents refuse to buy products and services from a company they do not trust.
  • For the first time since the end of the Great Recession, trust in business went down in the last year.
  • The majority of countries now sit below 50% with regard to trust in business.


The Rittenhouse Rankings survey is a bit different. It tries to analyse what it calls candor in the shareholder letters of CEOs — then ties these candor scores to the company's performance. Cool stuff. They're not claiming that correlation is causation, but here's what they found:

"The highest ranked companies have consistently outperformed the market on average by 6.0 percent over the past decade and by 9.5 percent over the past five years. The bottom-ranked companies have on average underperformed the market by 3.4 percent over the past decade and by 5.6 percent over the past five years."

So there's some science underneath the gut feel that we all experience: We like brands that we trust. We buy from brands we trust. We tell people about brands that we trust.

How insane is that?

I recently gave a presentation about Insane Honesty at a Google Firestarters event in London to a fantastic crowd of sharp, open-minded planners — you can view the slides here. For more examples, both classic and new, see my blog post Six Examples of Insane Honesty in Content Marketing.

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