Typically, marketing involves making your product, service, or brand sound like the best possible solution. As long as you stay within the truth and avoid unethical business practices, consumers will know that you’re just exaggerating and you won’t get in trouble with regulatory bodies.
Honest advertising does something completely different: it tells consumers exactly what you’re offering them.
But does honest advertising work? And if so, should you try it for yourself?
Advantages of Honest Advertising
There are several benefits to honest advertising, and these apply no matter your industry.
1. Stand Out from Competitors
Consumers are bombarded with ads throughout the day. There are ads on every webpage, in between posts on social media feeds, before and in the middle of videos, in apps — and that’s just in the digital world. Since no one pays attention to every single ad they encounter, marketers need to do something special to grab users’ attention.
Honest advertising has a shock factor. People are used to ads overtly pushing for a sale; a company being completely honest is surprising. For this reason, when customers come across an honest ad, they’re far more likely to take notice.
2. Build Trust
Once customers have registered the message, they often appreciate the honesty. They feel that they can trust the brand. Ultimately, this allows you to build a reputation as a trustworthy business and customers are more likely to recommend you to their friends and family.
3. Embrace Your Weaknesses
No company is perfect — but many like to pretend they are through their marketing. Honest advertising isn’t just about accepting your imperfections, it’s about embracing them.
Maybe you’re still a small business and are struggling to compete with the big names. Maybe you’re more expensive than some other options on the market. Perhaps you’re unable to offer the same flexibility as your competitors.
Honest ads allow you turn these potential downsides into positives. Ads can highlight that you’re unique or that you go the extra mile for customers. If your products are low quality, customers save money; if your prices are high, customers receive better quality. Whatever your weakness, there’s a way to present it as a strength.
4. Show Your Fun Side
Many honest ads use humor, often making fun of the industry or common marketing practices. Customers love the irony and appreciate that your company doesn’t take itself too seriously.
5. Find Loyal Customers
To build loyalty, you need customers who will want to come back to your company time and again. Those who dislike your flaws will never be loyal — you need customers who like your products or services despite the flaws. Plus, customers will never be upset with what they receive if they know what to expect from the start.
6. Appear Confident
No one can accuse an honest advertiser of lacking confidence. Just like in your personal life, it takes courage to admit your weaknesses. This is an admirable quality and leads customers to develop respect for your brand.
Honest Advertising Examples
Use these examples of the best advertising slogans and campaigns as inspiration for your own business. Bear in mind that, although fake honest ads abound, these are all real.
Nordnet Transparent Banking
Most banking ads are quite similar: they tend to talk about how the bank will keep your money safe. And they always like to stress transparency. The problem with this strategy is that banks all end up looking the same, as there’s little to differentiate one from another.
Nordnet, a bank in Norway, took the opposite approach. It made a parody of the generic banking ads. The ad is funny, and the sheer honesty leads customers to feel that the bank is actually more transparent than those that take themselves seriously in their advertising.
Avis in Second Place
Avis knows that its direct competitor is Hertz. It also knows that Hertz is the bigger company. Its honest ad campaigns acknowledge this, showing that there’s no shame in being smaller.
The very first ads date back to 1962 and were a series of print ads. They stress that, as the smaller company, Avis tries harder. The ads show how being number two is better in various ways.
All this time later, Avis is still using the slogan “We try harder” in its honest ads.
Optus with Ricky Gervais
When Australian telecommunications company Optus came to an agreement with Netflix to offer cheaper packages for its customers, the company decided to use Ricky Gervais to advertise the deal. Instead of talking about the benefits and cost savings, the ad makes fun of how companies typically use celebrities to advertise their services.
The ad feels authentic because it has Gervais’s signature comedic style. It’s a parody of the countless other endorsements where a celebrity has no real interest in (and perhaps no experience even using) the service.
Hans Brinker Hotel
Sometimes, travelers are not looking for a luxury place to stay. If they’re on a budget, they may just want a place to spend the night with a roof over their heads. Hans Brinker Hotel in Amsterdam is just that kind of hotel. There’s no point pretending it’s anything better, as guests would only be disappointed — or, quite possibly, disgusted.
The hotel launched its original honest advertising campaign more than two decades ago, right after an expansion. It decided to use the opportunity to demonstrate just how budget the hotel is, focusing on the poor quality of the facilities.
The amazing thing about the campaign was that it worked. The ads garnered more attention for the hotel and, to date, the hotel has a decent 3.8-star rating with more than 2,500 reviews on Google.
Back in 2014, Always started its #LikeAGirl campaign. This highlights sexism both in the traditional marketing of feminine products and in society as a whole. The ads make no mention of the brand or its products. Instead, they show how confidence declines in girls when they reach puberty and seeks to empower girls. This is a great example of how honest advertising doesn’t always need to use humor.
Should You Make Honest Advertisements?
You may be wondering why more companies don’t use honest advertising, since it can clearly be very effective. The problem is that honest ads can also backfire! If you’re too honest, you may drive potential customers to a competitor. You need to strike the right balance between honesty and creating appeal for your product, service, or brand. This takes guts — and also strategy.
Tips for Running an Honest Advertising Campaign
If you decide that an honest advertising campaign would be the right move for you, it’s important to do it right. Following these best practices can help you create ads that resonate with your audience.
1. Stop Pushing Your Product
It’s exhausting for consumers to keep hearing about how great the latest product is. In honest advertising, it’s often helpful if your product takes a backseat. Acknowledge that your offerings are not all that important — and that what counts are your values.
2. Empathize with Your Audience
Advertising often makes customers feel like they are being talked at rather than listened to. Companies are too busy extolling the benefits of their offerings to think about how customers feel. In your honest advertisements, you can stop making the focus about you and instead relate to your customers. Show them that you’ve heard what they’re saying, that you know what they want and need, and that you will continue to listen to them.
3. Be Authentic
Honest advertising fails if you’re unwilling to be completely authentic. Customers will see right through you if you only pretend to be genuine as a ploy to gain more sales. You need to be vulnerable — take some risks — to allow customers to see who you really are.
4. Be Obvious
None of the examples we saw of honest advertising campaigns were subtle in any way. This is because it’s critical to make it clear that an ad is honest from first glance. Subtlety will only confuse your customers. They may wonder if you realize that you’re highlighting a flaw and they won’t know how to feel after engaging with your ad.
5. Have a Consistent Approach
A single ad can be helpful, but it’s much better if you base your entire image on honesty. Otherwise, customers will feel touched by your initial honest ad, only to see subsequent ads that push for a sale once again. This diminishes the effect of the original ad.
Just remember that it’s unlikely you’ll see an impact immediately. Creating campaigns based on authenticity and highlighting your core values will allow you to gradually build trust with your target audience.
Honest advertising can be a great strategy — but only if you do it right. It allows you to stand out from your competitors (especially if they’re too scared to do the same themselves), highlight what’s unique about your company, and improve brand recognition. Just make sure to follow the best practices to ensure honest advertising presents your business as trustworthy, approachable, and human, rather than low-quality, sloppy, or even mean.