On Bullshit

The word “authentic” is so used up and trite that my eyes nearly roll out of my head when I hear or say it. And the opposite of authentic isn’t inauthentic. That seems to carry even less meaning and certainly doesn’t capture the reaction of an audience when they perceive it.

It’s bullshit.

Bullshit isn’t exactly lying and that is why so many advertisers and PR communicators feel they can get away with it. On the axis of Truthiness to Falsity, bullshit falls short of lying. It can feel true because it is concerned with conveying a certain impression rather than intending to deceive.

An easy example of awesome, unrepentant bullshit is Kanye West and we love/hate him for it. His music is simply amazing. But god-like? Even if his assertions are tongue-in-cheek, they clearly are intended to make us feel a certain way about him.

His entire brand, like many entertainment brands, is pure facade. We know almost nothing about the eccentric musician, which is fine because he is selling music that moves our hips and taps our toes. No one is buying “authenticity” from Kanye West.

Here is where the mistake is made in marketing and communications. In trying to connect with an emotion to trigger action, brands often make grandiose claims and associations that are not in line with their lived values or the benefit of their product or service. Unless yours is a Rock Star brand, that’s bullshit and you will pay the consequences for it.

Lying awakens a sense of violation and is a personal affront. When caught in a lie, the internet lights up with indignation and the court of public opinion can be devastating.

Recently Volkswagen was caught in a lie about the environmental impact of their supposedly low-emissions diesel engines, which triggered public outrage, regulatory investigations in multiple countries and a drop in their stock.

Clearly the consequences of outright falsehoods outweigh those of fakery and bluffing.

Unfortunately the consequences of bullshit are poor deterrents for many communicators, who continue to throw things at the wall to see what sticks. Calling this practice “iterative” is bullshit because it implies strategy.

When we perceive bullshit, we collectively tend to shrug it off with annoyance. It’s just more phoney fronting on the web that quickly disappears down our social feeds.

The inclination of an audience to turn away in irritation should be enough to stop the professional production of bullshit. However, the industries of marketing, social media and PR continue with platitudes and superlatives while recycling someone else’s marginally relevant content.

This is why we offer clients a Storytelling Blueprint that aligns the custom content we create with their values and ideal customers. We seek to integrate a content strategy with the greater marketing plan. We associate with the genuine emotions in your brand.

We cut out the bullshit.