Oscar Wilde on liars

"The liar at any rate recognizes that recreation, not instruction, is the aim of conversation, and is a far more civilised being than the blockhead who loudly expresses his disbelief in a story which is told simply for the amusement of the company."

And that friends is the gist of Seth Godin's new book, All Marketers Are Liars. Because markets are conversations.  Isn't that right Cluetrain?  And the conversations we wish to engage in - and are willing to pay for - are those that tell us the lie about ourselves that we are presently in need to tell.

Are they liars?

About a year ago I gave a presentation to a multibillion dollar pharmaceutical company. One of the marketing people shared how associating a cartoon character with a particular skin condition in their advertising sky-rocketed sales. Is the association a lie?

Marketing is about people.

Marketing is not about the transference of information. Why not? Because people are not rational beings. We're emotional beings. Therefore marketing is about the transference of feelings.

And that, in essence, is what Seth's entertaining and informative new book is all about. His thesis is that "marketers succeed when they tell us a story that fits our worldview, a story that we intuitively embrace and then share with our friends." Hard to argue with, huh?

I just received the debut issue of Radar magazine; a "colorful, fierce, complex reflection of our world."  In it writer Daniel Radosh penned a revealing article: "Famous for What? Talentless people are becoming famous at a terrifying rate, but what's become of genuine achievement? Welcome to the faking-it generation, where expertise and accomplishment have become footnotes to exhibitionism, a catchphrase, and a really good look." Here's an excerpt:

"Faking it has almost no relationship to talent whatsoever. All that matters is that one's perceived success outstrips any actual accomplishment. Consider Donald Trump, a businessman whose first job was delivering newspapers from the back of his dad's limousine and who later parlayed his family's great wealth into a $3 billion hole of debt. Sure, the fact that his creditors didn't slit his throat is something of an achievement, but, as with his hit TV show, his triumph has more to do with his outsize persona than with his business acumen. You know those fancy Trump Place apartments that The Apprentice winner Kelly Perdew is overseeing as his prize?  The Donald owns only a minority share of them. As with many of "his" properties, other, more solvent owners have let Trump put his name in gold letters on the buildings because it adds $150 a square foot to the condo prices. In the new-fame era, fake success equals real money.

In that sense, faking it is much like the phenomenon Princeton philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt describes in his recent bestselling book On Bullshit. "The essence of bullshit is not that it is false but that it is phony," he writes. "The bullshitter is faking things. But this does not mean that he necessarily gets them wrong." To put it another way: SUVs can be driven off-road, but according to auto industry surveys only five percent of them ever are. So the sales pitch used to woo drivers isn't false; it's phony.

Likewise, the new fakers are not frauds but fabulists, in the sense of people who spin fables. When WorldCom's Scott Sullivan inflates earnings by $3.8 billion, he is swindling; when Richard Branson presells tickets for the first Virgin Galactic space flight, he is faking it.

When Jason Giambi injects himself with steroids, he's cheating; when marginally talented tennis player Anna Kournikova "accidentally" exposes herself to a beach paparazzo, she is faking it.

The New York Times's Jason Blair: liar; the Times's Jennifer 8. Lee: faker. It's the difference between the internet con man claiming shark cartilage cures cancer and AstraZeneca changing half a molecule of Prilosec and claiming it's a new drug called Nexium."

Wow! And those sentiments are what creates ambivalence towards Seth's Liars title. In retrospect, Seth probably should have gone with: All Marketers Are Bullshitters.

In my book, A Brand New World: 10 Guiding Business Principles for Success in Chaotic Times, I titled principle number six: From Fact Telling to Storytelling. Here's an excerpt:

"Facts don't persuade, feelings do. And stories are the best way to get at those feelings.  We believe what we internalize, what we decide for ourselves, not what we're told. A story allows us to experience the knowledge in our mind's eye and make meaning for ourselves."

I titled principle eight: From Honesty to Authenticity, and wrote:

"People today are incredulous of marketing, institutions and the media. The only way to suspend disbelief, cut through skepticism and create trust is to act as a real human being and get to the naked truth. As the sages say: 'Words that come from the heart can enter the heart.'"

Seth Godin's All Marketers Are Liars combines these two principles in a very accessible way. Yes, many of his examples have been covered before (Riedel's wine glasses were used as an example in Nunes' and Johnson's Mass Affluence), but as I wrote before, today it's about the mix.  And Seth Godin is one of today's master business book mixers.