Let’s Be Honest: Brutally Honest Copywriting Pays Off

Honest is the best policy—and the best marketing strategy.

Be honest, your business isn’t perfect. No matter how good your team or how incredible your customer service, you simply can’t satisfy every single customer need.

If you follow the rules of marketing 101, you should bury these weaknesses under thick layers of marketing sheen and slick copywriting. But today’s modern consumers are hard to fool—they can smell inauthenticity a mile away.

So, how should you deal with your business’ or industry’s shortcomings? Expose them!

It might sound like madness to tell the world that you’re the most expensive product on the market. Or that your turnaround speed is one of the slowest. Or to shout about your terrible customer service.

But, when done right, insanely honest copy can turn heads, build trust, and charm potential customers.

Let’s take a look at this in action and how it effects ROI.

1. Honest builds trust

Let’s face it, banks aren’t known for being honest. But Swiss bank Nordnet promises consumers complete transparency in their banking. To prove this, they launched an ad campaign that pokes fun at the notoriously plastic banking ads.

By calling out the industry’s deceptive marketing, Nordnet subtly communicates that they’re different from their competitors. They set themselves apart by being honest about how they operate—right down to their advert production. And they still manage to slip in mention of their USPs: lower fees, a better platform, and a policy of pushing less of their own products.

 2. Honesty highlights your strength

It’s great if you’re the market number one, but what if you’re not? Someone has to be number two. You wouldn’t think this would be a selling point, but car rental company Avis used it to their advantage.

They overtly advertised their #2 position as a benefit for consumers: since they’re only second best, they work harder to satisfy customers.

Avis advertisement celebrating the company's status as second best, and strive to improve.

 Avis advertisement, highlighting the company's drive to improve and be number one.

3. Honest shows confidence

 In 2009, Domino’s Pizza had to face some unpleasant truths. Online reviews and customer focus groups revealed how the public truly felt about their pizza: a crust like cardboard and ketchup-like sauce. Ouch.

Instead of trying to bury the bad press, Domino’s Pizza chose to bare all in this fantastically honest commercial.

The campaign showcased Domino’s confidence that they could fix the problem. By broadcasting their negative feedback, Domino’s coolly implied that they didn’t expect it to have a lasting negative impact on their brand.

 4. Honesty gets a laugh

Effective marketing is always challenging, even for the best brands in the industry. But what if you’re the worst?

If you’re the slowest to deliver a shoddy product while charging way over the odds and never responding to customer enquiries, you’d think you’d want to play down these facts.

But Hans Brinker hostel in Amsterdam decided to own their reputation as “the worst hotel in the world.”

Create by ad agency Kessels Kramer, these print ads and commercials speak directly to the hostel’s target audience—budget-stretched backpackers and students.

In on the joke of how awful hostel experiences can be, this campaign used humor to transform Hans Brinker’s shortcomings into a reason to check-in.

There’s a great collection of these ads on the agency’s website if you’re up for a laugh.

Honesty boosts ROI?

Airing out your dirty laundry, inviting skeletons out of the closet—it’s a hair-raising strategy. But the results show that it pays off.

Avis’ “we’re number 2” advert sparked a strategy for the whole business that let Avis rapidly move from a 18% marketshare to 34%.

Domino’s honest commercial inspired public sympathy—it’s not every day a huge corporation admit mistakes and promises to fix them. It also inspired soaring profits. Domino’s fourth-quarter profits rose to $23.6 million—more than double the previous year’s figure.

And Hans Brinkers’ clever marketing must be paying off—TripAdvisor currently lists them as 44th out of 219 specialty lodgings in Amsterdam. And while they don’t always receive positive reviews, by setting expectations low, they can always get away with it.

Tripadvisor review highlighting a hotel's policy of lowering your expectations

So the data proves it. Honesty isn’t just the best policy, it’s the most profitable marketing strategy. Insanely honest marketing endears consumers to your brand, builds trust, and surprises them into paying attention.

So forget marketing spin—if you want to attract more customers, it’s time to be brutally honest.

Need help devising the most effective content strategy for your brand, then have a look at our content marketing services and get in touch today.

A native Brit, Charlie comes to MarketSmiths by way of Paris, Montreal, and Sydney.

She’s written for both B2B and B2C clients while on the content teams for global brands, digital agencies, and as a freelancer. She loves nothing better than crafting captivating copy for clients. Her experience ranges from blog posts to news articles to landing pages, with a focus on nonprofits, travel, and tech.

When not writing, she’s usually following her own foodie tour round NYC, kickboxing, or planning her next weekend trip out the city.

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