Commentary by Jonah Bloom

Naked Makes Marketers Keep It Real

How a London Agency Saves Clients From Making False Claims

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Some months ago I had a whiskey with John Harlow, one of the founders of Naked, an integrated-media-planning shop that has been arguably the hottest agency in London since its inception in August 2000.
Jonah Bloom, executive editor of Advertising Age.
In five years Naked has become a go-to agency for a host of top marketers, successfully spread its operations to mainland Europe and Australia, and sold an in-house version of itself, Naked Inside, to top creative shop Clemmow Hornby Inge. It will open in the U.S. as soon as it has the "right talent."

Harlow and his fellow founders, Jon Wilkins and Will Collins, succeed because they are smart, bring genuine media neutrality to marketers' decision-making and provide a welcome link between a marketer's strategy or business problem and campaign execution. But John insisted there's another ingredient to Naked's secret sauce: It makes realistic claims and gets its clients to do the same.

Marketing that's too glossy
He expanded his argument. His point, in essence, was that one of the biggest problems with most companies' marketing is that it is too glossy, conjures inhumanly perfect people and worlds and overreaches in its claims.

Too-glossy marketing has two outcomes: It sends the wired, savvy consumer running for the hills, because such consumers dislike and, where possible, avoid fake companies that make claims that ring false. Simultaneously it may pull in less connected, more trusting consumers -- but sets them up for serious disappointment, even anger, when the product or service fails to meet the expectations established by the marketing. Better to

make more realistic claims. Corporations are far from perfect, people know that, so their marketing shouldn't pretend otherwise.

All marketers are liars
The conversation came back to me last week, when an advance copy of a new marketing tome hit my desk. The title: All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World. The author of the upcoming tome is Seth Godin, who has had a number of business bestsellers, such as Purple Cow and Free Prize Inside.

Seth's inspiration for the new work was the recent presidential election. Both candidates, he said, were telling lies, but the candidate that won told the more believable lie -- that he was a strong, certain, infallible leader. Corporate marketers are the same, he concluded. They have to tell stories, and each of those stories will be a lie to someone somewhere, because you can't communicate (or even know) all the facts all the time, and because the truth is inevitably in the eye of the beholder. The marketers that win are the ones that tell an authentic story, a story that rings true for their target audience.

Making real claims
On the other hand are the marketers that will lose in the world of Harlow and Godin, because they are shredding their credibility or authenticity with consumers. They are the banks who claim to care or listen, when we all know that the economics of big-banking dictate that they can do neither. The wireless companies that tell us our bill will be $39.99 but charge closer to $80. The soft-drink maker that claims its product can somehow be a force for global harmony and unity. The doughnut company that promises us a low-fat offering.

Perhaps none of them are ready to make totally realistic claims but surely they can be more authentic than this.

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