Are you selling your truth or theirs?

Are you selling your truth or theirs?

Are you selling their truth or yours?
Right out of college, I was asked during a job interview to name a person, dead or alive, with whom I would love to have dinner

“Bill Bernbach,” I answered. Keep in mind this was for a job in advertising. Bill Bernbach, the founder of the famed advertising agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach, was sure to be a better answer than the expected Abraham Lincoln or Gandhi.

So I thought.

“Why Bill Bernbach?” came the next question

“Bill Bernbach is a legend. Bill Bernbach has done so so much for our business. We should all appreciate Bill Bernbach’s many contributions to the advertising profession,” I said, with the sincerity of a Miss Teenage America contestant.

Then came the unexpected.

“Like what kind of contributions?”, the interviewer asked. “What did Bill Bernbach do for our business that would make you want to talk with him so badly?”


“Well, uh, he’s s somebody that ..stutter, fumble, pause ….” It was obvious that I knew as much about Bill Bernbach as I knew about quantum physics. I was actually relieved when my interviewer abruptly ended my poor attempt at an answer with, “thanks for coming in.”

To avoid this from happening again, I decided to learn something about Bernbach. And while reading up on him, I found a quote of his that has stuck with me ever since. It’s a simple quote. In fact, on its surface, it doesn’t seem too earth-shattering.

Bernbach said, “the best advertising tells the truth.”

Over the years, however, I have discovered there are different sides to truth in advertising. There’s the truth that keeps advertisers out of jail. And then there’s the truth that helps advertising win customers. I like to believe that Bernbach was referring to the latter. It also so happens to be the side of truth that often gets ignored.

The subject of truth is mind candy for philosophers. And I’m no Plato. But this much I do know. There are really only two kinds of truth that really matter. There’s mine. And then there’s yours. We each believe what we want or need to believe. And if we should believe in the same thing, we have what’s called a relationship.

When we can find someone or something that confirms our beliefs, no matter what those beliefs are, we connect. Why else is our world is made up of different religions, political parties, and Deadhead groupies? We connect with people who share our truths. They make us feel that we are right.
Think about this the next time you hear an advertiser’s tagline like, “You’re in Excellent Hands,” or “Our Products Are Made to Last.” Then ask yourself, who’s truth is this? The advertiser’s or yours?

By contrast, advertising that follows Bernbach’s maxim is advertising that doesn’t sell truth. Rather, it reinforces a truth that already exists. It doesn’t push a claim as much as it validates an existing belief or value.

Assertions never connect as much as beliefs that resonate.

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