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In an episode from the second season of the Canadian television hit show Slings & Arrows, Sanjay Ramey (the chief of fictional advertising agency Frog Hammer) tells a prospective client, Richard, the following:

People are tired of ads in all their forms. They don't believe anything we say, and it doesn't work. We at Frog Hammer ask ourselves very simple things: Is it wondrous? Does it move you? Is it culturally authentic? We believe that people are sick of being lied to. If you use truth, you can sell people anything. If you want them to react, to feel or buy, tell them the truth! The truth is the new lie!

What makes Sanjay's sales pitch so ironic is that it's the truth.

Richard is the business manager of the financially troubled New Burbage Theater Festival, and he has a real business problem: His customers are old and dying and he needs to reach out to a younger audience before his business goes bust. Inspiring and enigmatic, Sanjay convinces Richard to turn his back on convention and mount a brutally honest rebranding effort.

Listening to Sanjay, Richard comes to the realization that consumers no longer buy hype and are bored stiff by features and benefits. Honesty, authenticity, relevance, and emotional appeal are the ways to attract the modern consumer.

He allows his new agency, Frog Hammer, to replace the expected highbrow Shakespearian sales pitch with a multi-media advertising campaign that tells it like it really is: "Macbeth was an ass." The result? A youthquake: The season quickly sells out to young audiences and Canada's power- and influence-wielding Minister of Culture, who reluctantly financed Frog Hammer's rebranding of the theater, had to sneak in because she couldn't get a ticket.

When did "telling the truth" become the right thing to do?

A few years ago, Seth Godin wrote a book titled All Marketers Are Liars. His point? Marketers are storytellers, and over the years their stories have become unbelievable, very predictable, and no longer relevant.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Shipley (markshipley@smithandjones.com) is Chief Thinker and cofounder of Smith & Jones (www.smithandjones.com).