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Brandirect Home > Our Voice > Archived Articles > How to earn customer trust - 2005-02-09

How to earn customer trust - 2005-02-09

by Pat Coyle

If you’re anything like me, then you are frustrated by marketing that seems deceptive. My friends and family are equally cynical. We trust brands less and less every day. It seems nobody wants to tell the whole truth in advertising. I think there’s an opportunity here

Have you ever considered the possibility that you could actually out-maneuver your competition
by being the first one to openly admit your shortcomings?


What can you do to make your advertising and selling messages more straightforward and truthful? What if you didn’t worry about or try to hide your blemishes? What if you became proud of them?

The other day I saw a TV commercial for a new drug designed to alleviate nausea. At the end of the spot, the announcer read off a list of possible side effects, one of which was “may cause nausea.” I almost fell off my chair laughing!

How is it possible that a drug to cure nausea can be marketed
successfully even though it may actually cause nausea?


Then I got to thinking. Who in their right mind would ever buy a drug that may cause the exact symptom it was created to alleviate? The answer is fairly simple: anyone who has suffered from nausea regularly.

I had the stomach flu recently and I know that I would have given just about anything to alleviate the nausea. And I only felt nauseous for 12 hours! There are people out there who suffer from these symptoms every day for weeks or months at a time. These people have tried countless remedies and some have reached the point where they would do anything to feel better.

So what if the drug may cause nausea?
It can’t get any worse. And it just might work!


Moreover, not only will these people try the drug, they’ll do whatever they have to do to get their hands on it. They’ll buy it at full price. They won’t ask “how much?” They will go out of their way to get it.

There’s a bit of irony in this situation. I’ll bet the drug seller didn’t volunteer to publish this unfortunate side effect. The company is probably required by law to publish such disclaimers. But in this case the legal copy actually helps keep customer expectations at an appropriate level.

If the drug works, they’ve got a happy customer. If it doesn’t, the customer had been duly alerted and probably won’t hold it against the company. It’s much better for the customer to be told the possible side effects in advance. This way he can make an informed purchase decision.

How can you use this example in your own advertising?


Remember, this drug is being marketed to people who suffer from nausea. Everyone else who hears that disclaimer will probably laugh, like I did. But we are not the target audience. But successful marketers will write ad copy with the best customer or prospect in mind. A true prospect wants to know the pros and cons of your offer. He wants to make an informed decision. Your honesty will expedite his decision.

David Ogilvy once said, “the consumer isn’t a moron, she’s your wife.”


For decades, advertising has been trying to tap peoples’ aspirations. It tries to make a product look so good that consumers will feel they have to have them. But deep down most customers know in advance, or come to find out at some point, that the picture or the promise in the ad was at least half empty. This is the point where your brand gets damaged (perhaps) beyond repair.

Turning a weakness into a strength


Let’s not just tell people what they want to hear so we can make a buck. Is that any way to make a living? If people value what you’re selling, they’ll not only accept your limitations, they’ll appreciate the warning AND if you’ve got what they need, they’ll make sacrifices to buy your product and they’ll defend you against your critics. By they way, when customers behave that way you know you’ve got a valuable brand.

Brandirect is a marketing and sales company that lives by the Golden Rule. We believe that if you want your customers to be loyal to you, then you need to be loyal to them. And that may mean changing the way you do business. But don't worry, that's what we're here for.