Where the truth lies — marketing in the post-truth era
by Marguerite de Villiers. Consumers don’t live in a vacuum, nor do marketers operate in a static space. We change with the times and adapt in order to survive in an increasingly globalised and competitively commercialised world. So how then do we effectively communicate product truths in a post-truth era? How do we address consumers’ concerns with what is real, trustworthy, reliable and true?
We live in a post-truth era…
“Post-truth” here doesn’t mean “after the truth”, but rather a time in which “the truth” (or truthfulness) has become relatively irrelevant. It brings to light issues of representation, objectivity, description, culture, authenticity, power, and more.
People are making decisions and judgments based on how they make them feel, rather than what the supposed facts are behind it. We want transparency, but what we get is a truth concealed; we’re deceived and confused.
…where we value not the truth, but multiple truths…
In a world where feeling trumps fact (pun intended), we see either a loss or collapse of meaning, or a reworking and repurposing of it. Online platforms give everyone a voice, allow for mass consumption of fake news, and disconnect us from the real world.
We value things not for their accuracy and we don’t measure their importance according to how long it stays in collective memory — instead, we determine its value according to how many times it was shared and how many people saw it. It’s a popularity contest in a world of convenience. We accept without questioning and believe without weighing up the facts. Thinking delays things — we want instant gratification.
…and we are writing our own truths …
We want snapshots, not stories, but we don’t want to be denied participating in the rewriting of the social narrative. The global narrative being told is one that makes new connections — linking the previously considered rational, reasonable, intellectual, elite and scientific to one another. In a post-truth era, experts are knowledgeable and therefore less trustworthy.
Consider the relatively recent boycott of Spur by various social groupings for different reasons. The boycotts are fuelled by what each group considers to be ‘the truth’ but is their version of the truth; a truth.
One truth was captured on CCTV footage. In short: a white male is seen grabbing a black child, in what some call ‘an aggressive manner’. The child’s mother confronted the man with what some have said was ‘inappropriate language’. The man then made a verbal threat to the woman.
Consider a truth to be a perspective and an experience of an event. Everyone involved, although experiencing the same event, has a different reception, recollection and interpretation of it. These truths, whether lived experiences, eye-witness accounts, or simply personal judgments, were interpreted and communicated in different ways to convey particular messages — depending on which truth was believed or favoured.
A “Boycott / Boikot SPUR Steak Ranches” Facebook page adopted the truth that a white man was banned from Spur for his actions, while a black woman was praised for her supposedly racist remarks. Kyknet further portrayed this truth by airing only the woman’s verbal attack on the man, and not the part of the footage that showed him grabbing her child. It became a truth focused on racial tensions.
An opposing truth was shared on Twitter where people wanted to boycott Spur because the staff members present at the time did nothing to protect the child or assist the woman and didn’t believe her truth as she had experienced it. Chief operating officer of Spur, Mark Farrelly, revealed the source of and concern behind this truth: “It was an assault by a large male on a young child. It shouldn’t even be reduced to a question of race. The aggression that lies under the surface in this country is crazy. The abuse of women and children in this country is pandemic. We are not going to sit by and allow one of those things to happen. I don’t think it’s appropriate to take a middle road: badly behaved individuals should not be allowed to eat in family restaurants.”
… in this kind of environment, how do brands react?
In a world where consumers question what is real, trustworthy, reliable and true, they react first with their heart and then with their head. As marketers and advertisers, we should take into consideration our consumers’ context, learned behaviour, and world views; we need to adapt and change with the times in order to remain relevant. We should speak from the heart, to the heart — give consumers something to connect to in an ever-shifting and drifting world. We need to be aware of how we communicate, and what messages we attempt to get across. Our consumers are dynamic beings that live in a fluid context — our products, brands, communications should speak to that.