I recently watched a programme where a group of obese people shared their stories and sought to understand each other’s points of view whilst staying together in a house. Amongst the group was a disruptive ‘body positive’ woman who literally closed her ears to the painful truths the group shared. Not surprisingly, her business model was based on denying the significant medical evidence that obesity had a detrimental effect on health.
Also not surprisingly, the subsequent conversation on Twitter widely condemned and ridiculed this woman’s delusion (and that’s the polite version).
It got me thinking, and worrying, about the dangerous truth-denying world that’s been allowed to flourish in the last few years. From the lies that were told before the Brexit referendum (and ever since), to the Climate Change deniers, to the Anti-Vax mob, to the ludicrous assertion that men can now ‘identify’ as women by popping on a frock and a bit of lippy. (I write that last line with a light-touch, as the real issues and implications of what’s going on with the ‘transwomen are women’ mob is a whole blog in itself and genuinely horrifying for the future of women, and children’s, rights and safeties).
Many have already written about this ‘culture of misinformation’ and the 1984 double speak world we now inhabit. It’s provided Trump and Johnson, and their corrupt and incompetent governments, with the path to power. It’s created a news culture where the ‘alternative view’ is always presented, no matter how ludicrous or dangerous. And one where the president of the USA can get away with telling almost 14,000 lies since he’s been in office, and routinely trash the integrity of journalists by dismissing anything he doesn’t like as ‘fake news’
But facts still matter. The rights, freedoms, safeties and health of the population and our planet are based on understanding facts and preserving the truth. If you can’t name a problem, you can’t fix it.
And of course, this culture is already damaging the integrity of marketing. Much like the obese woman, social media influencers continually prove you can make money out of pretty much anything if you’re smart enough – there will always be plenty of vulnerable people desperate for validation and ‘answers’. How else could Gwyneth Paltrow have made millions from selling utter rubbish on Goop? She is a dangerous, 21st century snake oil salesperson wrapped in the cloak of celebrity and glamour. (I say dangerous as women have actually ended up in hospital after following her absurd ‘advice’).
In the UK, the ASA have spent the last 50 years drilling the mantra of Legal, Decent, Honest and Truthful into us marketers and our agencies. But when Facebook can boldly state that they won’t take down political ads that they know are lying, where does that leave us? How toothless are the regulators in the face of the ultra-wealthy, law- and tax-avoiding tech giants?
So who benefits? As ever, the answer is to follow the money. The billionaires standing to profit from Brexit (and selling off the NHS to US insurance firms), the drug companies behind the (way too powerful) trans lobby and the ‘obesity is a social construct’ brigade, the oil companies behind the climate change deniers, the NRA keeping the GOP in power in America, the Russians meddling in elections… You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to realise that all this gaslighting and grooming could not be further away from ‘free speech’ if it tried.
All we can do in the marketing world is try and uphold our little corner of the truth. To protect our integrity and our reputation despite Rome burning around our ears. To stop green-washing, rainbow-washing and hog-washing our brands without at least questioning what else might be going on. To understand who’s behind the ‘charities’ and pressure groups lobbying for our support. To not blithely and blindly jump on popular bandwagons just because everyone else is.
The truth matters. If we lose sight of that, we’ll only have ourselves to blame.