The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

Fake Food for Thought

Have you heard about what the Whole Foods CEO did?

Apparently, Mackey has spent years commenting on blogs about the merits of Whole Foods and trashing the competition, pretending to be a Whole Foods fan (rather than its CEO). Good grief – this is from the company that is supposed to be “all natural?” (A point CK made.)

As I posted in a comment at Church of the Customer, Mackey’s behavior reminds me of topic of the week here in Washington – the increased scrutiny that politicians who talk family values deservedly invite when they hire hookers. It’s bad enough to be a fake voice online — it’s even worse when you project an absolutely antithetical position publicly. Authenticity sure seems in short supply these days. Just ask Mark Rovner, he’ll agree with me.

It also reminds me of the fact this week that Verizon sent me a very expensive direct mail piece ressembling a wedding invitation. The fancy card told me I am a VIP customer. Meanwhile, my nearly new Treo died last week, and Verizon flubbled the replacement shipment THREE FOUR TIMES IN A ROW, necessitating FOUR FIVE PHONE CALLS BY ME. Can you tell I’m irritated? Verizon is clearly on a big customer service push, but no matter how friendly the customer service representatives are or how esteemed I am as VIP customer, if the company doesn’t actually deliver good service, it’s as fake as Mackey. I pointed this out in a friendly way to the Verizon rep today and he gave me a sizable discount off my July phone bill, to his credit. And he said he was sorry, nicely. I felt slightly more VIP, and a little better about their authenticity. I feel far less forgiving of Mackey. (Update – I’m less forgiving of Verizon a day later, because my phone still did not show up. Let’s see if they are monitoring the web and see that I’m truly irate.)

People are sick of BS, and they are highly unforgiving when they step in your BS.

Seth Godin says all marketers are liars. What would he say about all of this? This is his take on what’s selling and what’s lying:

Every marketer tells a story. And, if they do it right, we believe them. We believe that wine tastes better in a $20 glass than a $1 glass. We believe that an $80,000 Porsche Cayenne is cooler than a $36,000 VW Touareg, which is virtually the same car. We believe that $225 Pumas will make our feet feel better than $20 no-names… and believing it makes it true. Successful marketers don’t tell the truth… They tell a story. A story we want to believe… Every organization—from nonprofits to car companies, from political campaigns to wine glass blowers—must understand that the rules have changed again. In an economy where the richest have an infinite number of choices (and no time to make them), every organization is a marketer and all marketing is about telling stories. Marketers succeed when they tell us a story that fits our worldview, a story that we intuitively embrace and the share with our friends. Think of the Dyson vacuum cleaner and the iPod. Marketers fail when they are selfish and scurrilous, when they abuse the tools of their trade and make the world worse. Think of telemarketers and Marlboro.

What do you think? I think it’s never okay to lie. It is okay to connect with an audience based on their values, as long as you are making bold promises to them and not false ones. The wine glass can’t have a crack in it, the Cayenne had better go fast ,and the Pumas had better look stylish. The Whole Foods CEO had better walk his talk of corporate responsibility. And a company that tells me I’m a VIP should try it’s damnest to treat me like one. Tell a story, but make it true.

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Linda Lombardi
Content Manager

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