Truth in advertising

More and more these days I’ve begun to think creativity isn’t the most important thing in an ad campaign … Obviously, creativity’s important, but I’ve come to believe that right now the fastest way to stand out in this blizzard of bullshit is to tell the truth.
Luke Sullivan

Good advertising tells the truth. Or more exactly, it tells a truth.

A truth is a statement that is undeniably and universally true (at least within your target market). A truth can’t be rebutted. A truth is relatable – upon hearing a truth you should say, “Hey, I do that”.

It’s an insight about human life – perceptions, beliefs, behaviours, relationships etc. This doesn’t mean a truth is some lofty philosophical rhetoric, it can be something as simple as: “Toilet seats are cold in the morning, and sitting on them is unpleasant”.

(Of course, this doesn’t have to be the case for everyone, I’m sure there are people who enjoy a bit of cool porcelain on the buttock, but for the majority of people, and importantly, in the social conscious, it is true.)

Once you start to identify these truths, you’ll start to see them everywhere – “Airline food is bad”, “When you’re bored, time slows”, “No one likes parking ticket inspectors”.

Some truths are clear, “Seeing an ex boyfriend/girlfriend is awkward”. Some are much less obvious, “We measure distance in time, e.g. ‘It’s 20 minutes away'”

You’ll start to realise most cultural objects employ truths – comedy, TV, film, cartoons, and most recently, as well as most overtly, memes.

Take for example, our previous toilet seat truth:

cold-toilet6 cold-toilet5 cold-toilet4 cold-toilet3 cold-toilet2

So why does incorporating a truth improve advertising? As Luke Sullivan, author of Hey Whipplediscusses above, it is partly because your ad will stand out from the ‘Blizzard of bullshit’. But I would argue a truth is more powerful – it makes an ad more effective, independently of it’s environment.

There’s no way of really knowing how many ads an average person is exposed to on a daily basis, estimates range from 1,500 to 3,000.  In such a brand-saturated environment, people are savvy to the social context in which advertising operates. They understand that they’re being sold to at all hours of the day, and as a result, are constantly skeptical of the messages they’re receiving. (If they’re not ignoring them completely).

A truth disarms their inner skeptic and makes them more receptive to your message. If you include a truth, your’e including something your audience can associate with. Their first reaction is, “Hey, that’s true” – Not, “Bullshit”.

Continuing the ‘Cold toilet seat’ truth further, imagine the ad below. The message is the same, “Kleenex wipes your bum faster”, but the ‘truth’ version is potentially more disarming and personable.


Brave advertising employs the truth about their product, no matter how ugly it may be, and uses it to have a discussion with the customer on their terms, using their truth.

The truth is, Volkswagen Beetles are ugly.


The truth is, no one cares about busses. 


The truth is, advertising uses ridiculous language. 


So when your next writing an ad, don’t bullshit your customer – they’re smarter than that. Tell them a truth.