You can’t handle the truth




James Ralph

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently helping clients separate their truths from what’s true. The difference between the two isn’t semantics, and it isn’t dissembling. The truth is what lies at the heart of something once everything else is stripped away – what is its purpose? Now films are something of a passion for me, so allow me to illustrate.

The key speech from 1992’s ‘A Few Good Men’ provides the title of this piece and is one of Jack Nicholson’s most famous performances.

The plot hinges on the whether the death of a soldier was ordered by Nicholson’s character Colonel Jessup. To justify this he argues that an army needs discipline and brave men to ‘stand on the walls’. While true, what he forgets is that an army’s purpose is to protect the weak. In confusing the two Jessup betrays the very truth he is sworn to uphold.

Fortunately for brands getting to the truth is rarely as dramatic, but it does take effort and commitment to discover. Truths are hidden away behind statements such as “the world’s leading”, “the largest”, “the most popular”. Again let me turn to a favourite film to explain.

In Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, our eponymous hero and the villain are faced with the choice of which chalice to drink from? Indy recognises the truth; strip away the jewels and the purpose of the chalice is to quench thirst, it is a cup. Donavan allows what is also true to obscure the truth. The truth of his choice is that the gold, jewel encrusted chalice is a status symbol, it is not for quenching thirst.

Brand managers and marketing directors face similar challenges. Past marketing initiatives, messaging grids, and strategic reviews layered on top of the core truth, confuse and obscure. Leading clients through this is a rewarding process, both for communications, and for marketing as a whole. A compelling truth underpins and helps integrate not only marketing campaigns, but the operation of an organisation.

Take a recent client, one of the world’s leading industrial conglomerates. Their innovations underpin modern society. But this message had got confused when it came to Corporate Social Responsibility. Yes it was true they operated in lots of markets, it was true they upheld local health and safety laws, it was true their employees cared about their communities. But those were all true of countless other large firms. As a result investment in CSR was confused and communications fractured.

Applying the truth of pushing the boundaries of what is technically possible to their CSR efforts meant focusing upon achieving more than any other firm in helping society both attain the scientific and engineering skills to push those boundaries further, and to make the most of the fruits of those labours.

True story.

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