Win Your Buyer’s Trust: How to Use Honesty in Marketing

Years ago, legendary American advertising executive James Webb Young started “Old Jim Young’s Mountain Grown Apples,” which sold fruit by mail. In the book How I Learned The Secrets Of Success In Advertising by Guy Lynn Sumner, a story was told about an apple-growing season that nearly ruined him.

Violent hailstorms bombarded his apple trees with ice pellets, marking the fruit with small blemishes.

Young felt he was in between a rock and a hard place. If he shipped the bruised apples to his mail-order buyers, he was afraid he’d experience a massive amount of complaints and returned fruit. But if he didn’t ship the apples, he’d have to refund his customers’ money, and his business would be destroyed.

The apples only suffered minor cosmetic damage. Although the hail had discolored the skin, it didn’t affect the flavor or freshness of the fruit.

Suddenly, Young had an idea. He went ahead, filled his orders, and in each box enclosed a preprinted card that explained their appearance:

“Note the hail marks which appear as minor skin blemishes on some of these apples. These are proof of their growth at a high mountain altitude, where the sudden chills from mountain hail storms which these apples receive while growing help firm their flesh and develop the fruit sugars which give them their fine flavor.”

According to Young, not a single order was returned. And the following year, many customers requested “hail-marked apples.”

This story is a great example of what can happen when you’re truthful about your weaknesses and flaws. If you do it right, you can increase loyalty, sales, and customer satisfaction with your buyers.

Honesty sells

Hope Bagozzi, Director of Marketing of McDonald’s Canada, used videos to answer questions from their customers. This has to be one of my favorite marketing videos because it answers a common question honestly but with style.

Most people have no idea how much work goes on behind the scenes in order to deliver their product. Bagozzi pulled back the curtain to reveal that in order to make food look appetizing, a great deal of care is given to presentation.

A video was created that showed what went into photographing food, specifically, the Big Mac—how the lettuce and tomato had to be positioned just right in order to show the ingredients of the sandwich. Instead of feeling duped, McDonald’s customers felt like they discovered something new and interesting.

When you’re honest with your buyer, you come across as refreshingly different from your competition. Most businesses pump up their offerings with ambitious claims. But buyers have become immune to such tactics. Authenticity is what they crave.

Here’s how you can use this technique:

Pick one weakness of your product or company. Talk about it frankly in your marketing. Show either (a) why the weakness is not important or (b) how you have designed your product or service to overcome, solve, or compensate for the weakness.

Avis did this brilliantly in 1962. Since its birth, the car rental company had trailed behind the market leader, Hertz. They decided to embrace their second-place status as a sneaky way to tout the brand’s customer service. “When you’re only No. 2, you try harder,” went the new tagline. “Or else.”

Ask yourself how can you be honest with your own marketing. No matter what it is you do, I guarantee there is a way to create content that is honest and will endear you to your customers and prospects. It just takes some work to find it. But once you do, it’s well worth it.


About the author: Mary Rose Maguire

Mary Rose Maguire

Copywriter. Content marketing specialist, B2B web copy, content marketing collateral, and email marketing. Tireless advocate for testing response. David Ogilvy is my invisible mentor, along with John Caples and Claude C. Hopkins. You can find me on Google+
 or Twitter.

2 replies
  1. Xerxes Aga
    Xerxes Aga says:

    Mary Rose, you took the words out of my mouth. When I saw this post, the foirst thing that came to my mind was “Hey. The perfect example of this philosophy is the old Avis ad.” You beat me to it. But truly, Honesty pays. Along with a slice of humble pie.

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