The End of Spin as We Know it?

By: Guest | January 24, 2013 | 

Today’s guest post is by Chuck Kent.

Spin sucks so much author Jonathan Salem Baskin contends it’s an endangered species.

Truth be told, I dissemble as much as the next guy.

Nonetheless, Truth with that capital T has always been my greatest interest, the Grail in my unholy professional life.

I firmly believe nothing creates more convincing marketing messages – or greater long-term shareholder value – than the simple, self-evident truth about a brand.

No wonder, then, that immediately after hearing author Baskin interviewed by Mitch Joel I bought Tell the Truth: Honesty is Your Most Powerful Marketing Tool (co-authored by Sue Unerman).

At the end of the book, the authors make this bold prediction: “We believe in five years we’ll look back on the art of spin as an anachronism. The truth is the future of marketing.”

Wow.  I knew I just had to sit down and talk to Baskin about the demise of spin, the problem with brand communications and the prospects for truth in marketing. Here’s a topline of the conversation we had shortly before Christmas, 2012  – you can watch a more complete version on Vimeo (it’s worth it).

End of Spin – Jonathan Baskin excerpt from Creative on Call, Inc. on Vimeo.

KENT: My first question is… why write this book?

BASKIN: [My co-author Sue Unerman and I] had been talking about… why did certain things work and certain things not work – not just in terms of channel or media-specific things, but more broadly. Were there reasons a billboard ad worked underlying why a great social campaign worked? We found our clients or our fellows looking for a lot of these made-up or new metrics for what constituted effective branding or effective marketing. And we wondered if there weren’t some underlying truths about what worked and what didn’t, so we started analyzing it and pretty soon came up with this idea of… truth.

[That idea is] underlying not only every business communication but every personal communication. What we’re striving for when we talk to one another is a shared understanding of truth. Once we took that hypothesis and got to working… it opened our eyes to seeing what businesses and brands do in a different way. [We tried to] come up with the language to talk about it, and talk about it in a business setting, not in an ethics setting alone or exclusively, but really talk about it as a business imperative. Did more truthful brands and businesses also happen to sell more stuff? That’s how we came up with the premise.

KENT: At the very end of the book, you and Sue make, what I consider, a pretty provocative statement:

More and more, marketers are turning away from easily constructed spin and digging deep into the truth of their brands. We believe that in five years we’ll look back on the art of spin as an anachronism. The truth is the future of marketing.

So, do you really expect that spin as we know it will end in five years, and if it does, what does that look like?

BASKIN: There’s probably a little bit of hopefulness written into this because there’s a moral dimension to what we do and believe and there’s a populist dimension to it as well… We hope consumers wake up and demand more, and we see evidence they are across the board, whether it’s five years or seven years or 10 years.

The reality of what that world looks like? Again, I think it’s one of these deals were we’re already in it, we just have to wake up and look around, open our eyes, if you will, and see the kingdom around us, not to get theological about it. The fact any consumer right now can demand better service through Twitter, or through direct contact with the business. The fact businesses have the capacity to talk to consumers directly and immediately and repeatedly, these are all realities, this is all now.

The fact I have a mobile phone today, and I can wait to do my product research until the moment I’m standing at the counter at a retail store and call up a pricing comparison, call up whether or not a nearby store has a better deal, this is all now, this is all happening.

So while big brands are still talking about image and engagement and likeability and clicks and shareability and all these nonsense terms, the reality of how we’re already interacting is far more dependent and reliant on the truth than we are really able to recognize or have the language to describe.

I would argue five or seven or 10 years from now, it’s more of the same. Businesses that have a better, more open and sustainable relationship with their customers on a shared understanding of what they do for a living and what they’re offering, what it’s value is and whether or not it works, are going to be doing better business than those that don’t. It’s already what’s happening today. I would argue that it’s less of a future that will come and more of a present that we will become more aware of, both as brands and as businesses.


Later in the interview, Baskin relates a great anecdote about his recent experience trying to present this concept at the PRWeek national meeting, comments on the affect of gaming social platforms on truthfulness, and gives some insight into the attitudes of the next generation of marketers, based on his extensive work with college students. I encourage you to at least view the excerpt above, and hopefully take in the more complete interview.

How do you see the true future of spin? What’s your take on the truth in marketing? Powerful tool, pipe dream, or something in between?

Chuck Kent is president and creative director of the branding, communications and content agency Creative on Call, Inc., and the creator of #SocialSong Saturday.  You can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

  • I would love to see their prediction come true, and I think we see a measure of that happening because of the democratization of the web and the power of the crowd, but I’m still pessimistic. I think spin will sadly always be here. I want to believe it, but….

    • @KenMueller Ya’ gotta believe, Ken, ya’ gotta believe… I’m an “optimistic cynic,” so yes, I have my doubts, too. But these observations/predictions track with essence or others, as in Don Peppers and Martha Rogers book “Extreme Trust: Honesty as a Competitive Advantage”  Both books are worth a read.

    • Jonathan Salem Baskin

      @KenMueller Ken, I’d add that it’s getting harder and harder to ignore the failure of business-as-usual branding. The Edelman Trust Barometer was just released this week and finds that only 18% of consumers trust corporate execs to tell the truth. A WARC study late last year found that 86% of consumers think companies do business without regard for their customers or communities. And Nielsen found that most folks don’t believe advertising (also last year). The evidence that NOT telling the truth isn’t building relationships or sustainable sales should at least get some big name brands to consider the alternative…but I, too, share your hope…

  • dwfmarketer

    I really believe truth is a good thing for business, and this post gives me hope that I’m not alone, though I kinda think there will always be people who try to game the system and people who believe them and “fall for it”. Not to get too political, but what was your feeling on the recent presidential race in the US? If there is anywhere that the truth should help and lies hurt, it’s in politics. And we saw that the “fact checkers” were more prominent than before. And we saw both sides regularly accusing the other of lies, spin, and rhetoric. But when the dust cleared, neither side was a landslide winner…  Why? I wonder if there is some aspect of our culture that wants to believe the lies, that wants to deny the truth. And if so, are they going to go away, or will spin live on because the let it, or even need it to?

    • @dwfmarketer Hopefully Jonathan will weigh in on that, too… as for me, the sorry state of political discourse is undermining any expectation of hearing the truth, leaving people satisfied with simply having their own POV reinforced… like a bunker is reinforced, where, as more layers of concrete are added,  it becomes ever more difficult to penetrate.  That said, surprise has forever been a great way to break through defenses, and what could be more surprising that consistently, blatantly, even aggressively telling the truth?   I am hopefully that with people like Jonathan Baskin and Sue Unerman really making a mission of this message (for instance, they’re traveling and speaking extensively at universities, acknowledging that a sea change in marketing, such as this, likely will only come with future leadership change).

      • dwfmarketer

        @creativeoncall I like the bunker visual, as I think that’s exactly what is going on there.  I’m hopeful too that business can actually lead the way to a more transparent future and politics will maybe follow that (since in large ways they are businesses, too).

        • @dwfmarketer Yep, party politics has become pure business, but where the organizations fail their fiduciary duties to enhance value for ALL stakeholders

      • Jonathan Salem Baskin

        @creativeoncall  @dwfmarketer The sorry state of political communication really troubles me, both professionally and as a citizen. I think it “works” because its substance and deliverables are so far removed from the daily lives of voters…they can vote for broad themes and no politician can be held accountable for them (or, conversely, any opposing politician can be blamed for impeding those themes). So it’s marketing without any real accountability…I think people hold Starbucks far more responsible for the cups of coffee it serves each day than any of us actually demand results from the candidates for whom we vote.
        The ‘good’ news, if there’s any to be had, is that this is how it has always been in America, save for the brief interlude of truly mass/shared media in the middle of the 20th century. Otherwise, we’ve been voting our ‘values’ since Day One.

  • I love the idea of ending spin, but to think that it will be archaic in 5 years seems like a stretch to me.  That being said I do think that there will be clear delineation between the transparent organizations providing honest information and the media outlets still spinning.
    Great thoughts!!
    Ryan Hanley

    • @Ryan Hanley I agree, five years is optimistic at best… it’s that claim that prompted me to interview Jonathan.  I encourage you to watch the full interview version, and to read both this book and Peppers & Rogers “Extreme Trust,” wherein they draw an important distinction between being honest, as in not telling lies or hiding anything, which makes organizations trustworthy, and actively looking out for the good of your consumers (as when a company reminds you they are about to auto-bill your renewal, rather than simply billing it), which they say distinguishes a company as being “trustable” (their word).

  • theredheadsaid

    Have you guys seen the movie “Crazy People” with Dudley Moore from the 1980s? I would love to see that kind of truth in advertising. 🙂

  • I’m learning to call it “Reality Marketing”, where our efforts at marketing are meant to broadcast, amplify and connect people to THE REAL VALUE that our client businesses are offering. We’re not out trying to create a fluff-and-bluff “mirage”, but instead we’re encouraging businesses to BE the best, so that we can help them become KNOWN for being the best. “Reality Marketing” has Google working FOR it. We don’t try to game google, we pretty much forget about Google.
    Thanks, Chuck, for highlighting these pieces of the Baskin interview, and continuing to give us all good reasons to keep moving toward spin-free marketing!