The foundation of business’ true character is in its sincerity
Imagine you live in ancient Rome in the year 100 A.D. You’re making your way through the noisy and crowded marketplace in search of a new vessel to hold cooking oil. You stop at the most promising stalls, inspecting the handiwork of various potters and searching for the perfect container. Being an astute shopper—and a shrewd negotiator—you hold each vessel up to the bright sunlight to inspect it for cracks. After all, a fractured pot will not do a very good job of holding oil.
You see, in ancient times, when potters would turn their wares, they were set in the hot sun to dry and harden, and often these clay pots would develop cracks, rendering them useless. Some unscrupulous potters would attempt to fill the cracks with wax to disguise the flaws. But a smart buyer would examine the vessel to look for telltale translucency—an indication that the pot’s imperfections were filled with wax.
The word “sincere” has its roots in two Latin words: sine “without” and cera “wax”. Without wax. So the claim that something was sine cera would be an important guarantee—a stamp of authenticity and integrity.
As advertising legend Bill Bernbach famously put it, “The most powerful element in advertising is the truth.” And he’s right. Sincerity is critical, especially in today’s skeptical marketplace.
So how about your business? Does your character “ring true” or is your phony showing? Is it believable that yours is the business that should be bringing this product or service to market? Is it aligned with your core competencies? Is your authentic character reflected accurately in your business’ reputation? Or are you covering over imperfections with wax?
A few examples of waxy insincerity
When McDonald's launched its "We love to see you smile" campaign in 2000, commentators argued that filthy restrooms and grumpy counter clerks rendered their advertising “preposterously false”—nothing but cracks filled with wax. A year later, published reports revealed that rude employees were costing Mickey D’s millions of dollars annually in lost sales.
The Fiat division of Chrysler is under fire for some recent insincerity. The Fiat 500 ad featuring Jennifer Lopez driving through her old neighborhood—the seedier side of the Bronx—and claiming that J. Lo. is “from the block” was slammed because Lopez was no where near the shoot. The scenes, instead, were shot with a body double, making the earthy spots inauthentic at best.
The world’s largest retailer is not exempt either. When bloggers exposed a "fake blog" that impersonated a travel journal written by a couple that were compensated for their gushing posts about Wal-Mart, the sham elicited a deluge of rebuke.
Radio Shack—which got its start in the early 1920s as a supply house for radio and electronics hobbyists—continues to fill cracks in their leaky foundation by trying to be something they’re clearly not: consumer-friendly (remember the “red chair” campaign?) and hip (they tried desperately to drop “Radio” from the name and to be know as simply, “The Shack”). Radio Shack is a geek’s paradise and should celebrate that fact. Yet sales and earnings are down. As MarketWatch recently reported, “To anyone who shopped at RadioShack lately, this is probably not huge news. Politely speaking, their stores generally look tired. That happens when you're under pressure.”
And an under-pressure vessel leaks.
maintain its sincerity, a brand must remain true to its values, keeping
it real, honest, genuine, and true. So don’t try to be something you’re
When you see the How-to-Branding.com Toolbox, it designates that the following content is a tool, exercise, or technique you can use to help develop your affordable brand strategy.
Three rules for sincerity
Businesses that are authentic—that express sincerity in all they do and say—align their character with their conduct, and their conduct with their conversation.
"Sincerity is impossible, unless it pervades the whole being, and the pretence of it saps the very foundation of character."
--James Russell Lowell (American Poet)