IF WORDS NO LONGER HAVE VALUE, WHAT’S THE POINT OF COMMUNICATING?
Named 2016 “word of the year” by the very distinguished Oxford Dictionary, the term “post-truth” first appeared in 2004 to denounce the efforts made by climate-change skeptics to undermine empirical science. The term refers to a simple yet incredibly effective idea, one that seems to be taken directly from Beaumarchais’ famous maxim: “Deny, deny, deny, and something will end up sticking.” And sure enough, by constantly denying facts and reality with conviction, one can create uncertainty, even in minds of the most educated and objective of people…
How did this word gain such notoriety in recent years, only to become a buzzword of the mainstream media? Two major events are the likely culprits, and their effects will undoubtedly be felt in our everyday lives a lot quicker than those linked to global warming: Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. In both cases, we witnessed the spectacular victory of shameless lies. But are these really lies or just artful fables that speak to the hopes and fears of the voting public ?
“POST-REALITY” IS THE NOTION WHEREBY THE STORY ONE TELLS (AND THE WAY ONE TELLS IT) HAS MORE VALUE THAN THE FACTS THEMSELVES
Yet, this is nothing new. It was already Socrate’s reproach to Gorgias in Plato’s dialogue of the same name. And it’s long been the reproach made by philosophy to rhetoric, but also to sophistry, which is considered as the ancestral tenet of the advertisers and communicators of today, who believe body and soul that it’s always the most powerful stories that capture people’s attention and ensure their buy-in.
This may be nothing new, but it still raises some fundamental questions. Must one seduce to persuade? Must one tell the truth to be right? But also, can the truth itself be presented in a seductive manner? Sooner or later politicians and communicators will need to face these ethical issues head-on, or run the risk of being severely judged and cast aside by public opinion, which always ends up rewarding truthfulness and punishing falsehood.
Alarmingly, 74% of the Prosumers* believe that only politicians who are corrupt or lie can get elected. Moreover, 60% consider advertising and brand messaging to be too intrusive.
In short, one would think that politicians and advertisers were all compulsive liars, who’ll do anything to force honest people to listen to their disingenuous chatter. The first on the merits of a political programme, the second on the benefits of a specific brand.
BUT YET THERE’S A BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE FATE RESERVED FOR POLITICS AND THE FATE RESERVED FOR BRAND COMMUNICATION.
Thankfully the latter seems destined for a brighter future. Indeed, while the French say they make no effort to dig deeper into the proposals made by politicians, who are all perceived as inherently suspect and ineffective, they say they make a point of learning more about the products and services they buy. For all their distrust of politicians, people still believe in brands because they have faith in companies. Indeed, 88% of the French believe that companies play as big a role in improving society as do governments
THE VALUE GIVEN TO TRUTH VARIES CONSIDERABLY, DEPENDING ON WHETHER ONE CONSIDERS THE POLITICIAN OR THE COMPANY, THE CITIZEN OR THE CONSUMER.
In short, the concept of truth only has meaning (and value) when applied to people from whom we actually expect something, and whose power we believe in. So as citizens, we prefer to hear tales instead of truths, because we have no faith in politicians. However, as consumers, we prefer truths over tales, because we believe in the role and the power of companies. This reality offers advertisers a fairly straightforward guideline to follow…
* What are Prosumers? They’re the key influencers and driving elements of the market, who Havas Worldwide and BETC have been studying for over 10 years. Besides their direct economic impact, prosumers play a critical role in the market because they affect the choices