Tim McCarthy and the Business of Good

Newsletter: The Truth, Well Told

Jul 1, 2010 7:30:00 AM / by Tim McCarthy

Often our organizations have a good story, we just don’t tell it well.  By building a process for getting our target audience to hear the best about us, we can gain donors/customers.   [more]

In 1912, Harry McCann opened an advertising agency using the words “The Truth Well Told” as his slogan. Ninety-eight years later, it is still the theme of the world’s largest agency network, McCann-Ericksen.

I spent my ad agency years in McCann’s network (Interpublic/Lowe/Marschalk/Fahlgren) and so I’m familiar with how hard it is to get this right.

To me, the truth well told means finding a way to say the truth in an interesting fashion. Not “spin” it, not “bend” it, but say the truth in its most appealing way to our audience, no matter who our business or organization is trying to attract to its cause.

In 1974, McCann created a campaign that is ranked by Advertising Age magazine as one of the top 10 television campaigns of all time. It’s also a good example of truth well told.

At the time, light beer did not dominate the beer category as it does today. In fact, two light beers had come to market and neither had gained a foothold.

Men, beer’s primary consumers, did not seem to be attracted to Gablinger’s “Diet Beer” (the original light beer) or Meister Brau “Lite.”

But when Miller Brewing bought Meister Brau, some very smart people saw potential in the “Lite” product and asked McCann to develop a test market campaign in Springfield, IL.

The truths McCann was given:

  1. Miller Lite had only 96 calories vs. regular beer’s 200+ calories.
  2. Miller Lite tasted better than Gablinger’s recipe.

The challenge McCann’s creative people faced was in telling these truths in an interesting and appealing fashion; a way that would cause men to give it a try.

They could have accurately stated: “Here’s a beer that will help you lose weight.”

Another accurate statement would have been: “Here’s a beer probably not as tasty to you as your regular beer but it tastes a lot better than the other diet beer out there.”

Both true but neither platform had much chance to appeal to their audience.

So they created a TV campaign that featured two male sports figures in each commercial who spent the thirty seconds, often in very funny ways, arguing over which benefit – great taste or less filling – was more important to them.

Miller Lite; Tastes Great, Less Filling

And at the end of the commercial, the voice over announcer would say:

“Miller Lite…..everything you ever wanted in a beer, and less.”

All truthful – beer drinkers could now lose weight (which they’re still doing) while still having an occasional beer or three with a small sacrifice in taste. In fact, as with Diet Coke, many users can no longer bear the taste of the regular beers and colas.

The success of this campaign drove the growth of the Miller Brewing Company. “Lite” exceeded the sales of its flagship brand “High Life” only a few years later and was the catalyst in growing the entire light beer category.

Why the story?

The idea of “the truth well told” comes up a lot when we work with both profit and non-profit organizations. Here are a couple current examples:

A few weeks ago one of my favorite young entrepreneurs was showing me the promotional materials for his coffee shop. In them, he announced seemingly everything about his products: great taste, nice packaging, friendly service, various flavors, etc. (What we used to call in the business: “Ten pounds of poo in a five pound bag.”

So I asked him, “Who in our market roasts their own coffee?”

He’d driven a 30 mile circle and checked the internet and his answer was clearly “no one.”

I said, “OK, now we have one truth which may be meaningful to our market. So, my challenge to you is you must find a way to tell that truth in an interesting manner.”

We haven’t come up with the campaign yet but I know we’ve got a better chance to significantly grow his business than we had before.

We have identified an important distinguishable truth – our coffee is fresher because we roast it right here. Now we just have to tell that story clearly and interestingly.

A non-profit organization we serve provides financing for unbankable businesses. Entrepreneurs with no capital come to them with a good plan, integrity and a good work ethic and they go to work finding them unsecured capital to start or grow their business.

We recently found out that partner organization itself is insolvent. As often is the case, their leader was brilliant with service but not so good with financial management. After a significant reorganization, the truth remains that this organization may not survive.

I say, if that’s the truth, let’s tell it well.

And so I’m thinking their campaign slogan could be: “We can’t go on without you.”

It’s the truth. And because of their mission, it can be well told. Who doesn’t want to be needed?

There is risk, of course, but I think it could be a powerful campaign since no marketing spin has ever been more powerful than the truth, well told.

I think that in each of our lives, as well as our organizations, we have truths that we either don’t recognize or don’t figure out how to express meaningfully. We seem to be afraid to put our strengths, as well as our weaknesses, out there for all to see.

And yet, until the truth finds its light, it’s hard to see.

Tags: Monthly Newsletter, Professional Growth and Development, Business & Entrepreneurship, Communication & Relationships

Tim McCarthy

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