Seth Godin says that, "Some marketers focus so hard on the facts of their offering that they forget to tell a story at all." That is no doubt true. In the mind of a consumer facts have little value if they cannot be applied to self. You can tell me all the facts in the world about the effectiveness of a bulletproof vest, but that knowledge will mean a lot more to me if you start off with, "Don't look now, but someone's about to shoot you in the chest." And there is my main point: The stories we tell can sell a product, but (as Seth also points out) they can't help a client unless our stories are authentic. I might buy the vest, but once I realize you were lying to me, I'm going to cram it down your throat. Our stories can't be lies ... but they don't have to be true.
Why Advertisers Lie
I tend to be an optimistic person who believes the best about people. So, you may have to take this with a grain of salt. I think the main reason advertisers lie is because they really don't think about it. They don't think through whether or not what they are saying is authentic; they think through whether or not it will sell a product. Blatant lies, like in the above example, are rarely told (by the civilized marketing world) because they are obvious lies. No one would get away with it. (Scam artists excluded.) But, more subtle lies are more difficult for consumers to spot when we hear them and more difficult for advertisers to notice when they're saying them. In the end, though, any lie told by an advertiser to a consumer will hurt the longevity of their business.
Authenticity vs Truth
It's important to make a distinction between telling an authentic story and telling a true story. Some stories that seem like boldface lies we love because the are authentic. We know they are not true, but they still line up with what we like to believe. I know that sounds crazy, but here are some examples:
Axe: Walk into the bathroom of any male youth and you will find at least one Axe product for "men." Why is this? Because they tell authentic stories. They don't tell true stories, mind you, but they tell authentic stories. Not a single 16 year old boy believe that if he sprays on some Kilo that the girls at school (who are shockingly all attractive) will become helplessly, uncontrollably attracted to him. That is not the truth, but it is authentic. It's the way we guys think. And all it take is one comment about our new sent from any female to confirm such thoughts.
Chick-fil-A: Not once in my life have I seen a cow do anything other than eat grass (or corn if you are an "industrial" farmer). I have certainly never believed that they could climb a billboard, stand on each other's backs or paint signage. Chick-fil-A does not tell a true story. Cows don't encourage people to eat more chicken. So, why has that been such a successful campaign for more than 15 years? Because it's authentic. We don't think that cows are into advertising, but we think that if they were then that's probably what they would do. I mean it's their lives on the line here. If it were me, I would try to convince people to eat more ... Man, I want some Chick-fil-A right now!
What it takes
In order to tell an authentic story you only need three things. On one level you can usually come by these things pretty easily. On another level they are impossible to get if you don't already have them. 1) You need a story. 2) You need to believe that story. 3) You need to know your customer's stories.
All authenticity problems come back to at least one of these three needs. Either you are making stuff up as you go, you are lying though your teeth or you are talking to the wrong people.