The Difference Between Storytelling and Lying

20 replies
I generally only write a "story" for a sales page if the story is true.

Right now I've got a client who wants me to create a story for his sales page. One of these "I was working on the inside and learned all the secrets" stories you see in a lot of sales pages....

The difference is they're leaving it up to me to create that story out of thin air.

To me, that's just lying.

On the other hand, does that mean every company that creates a "character" to represent their business is being unethical? Or does the difference lie in how obvious it is that it's just a character?

Curious how this is generally treated in the industry. And the legalities? Does it only become deception if you start claiming unsubstantiated results, or is it deception to create the "insider character" in the first place?
#difference #lying #storytelling
  • Profile picture of the author marciayudkin
    James, I'm on your side on this.

    If a client wants you to say that he/she did or experienced something that you are simply making up, then it's lying - just the same as if you said on your resume that you went to Harvard and you didn't.

    If the client insists, this is a client you don't need to work for.

    As for where to draw the line, different people will do it differently. But paying attention to your own sense of honesty and ethics is just as important as what other people say or do.

    Marcia Yudkin
    Signature
    Check out Marcia Yudkin's No-Hype Marketing Academy for courses on copywriting, publicity, infomarketing, marketing plans, naming, and branding - not to mention the popular "Marketing for Introverts" course.
    {{ DiscussionBoard.errors[10434324].message }}
    • Profile picture of the author DaveSerg
      In my experience with clients and my own sites, It depends on how much of a 'Hard Sell' the niche you are getting into is.

      Normally stories of fiction only appear when the market has become saturated telling truths or half truths about the product leaving a gaping whole for 'Character Creation' giving something that is on the face of things a clear cut product with what works, and what doesn't a bit more life by attaching a Character alongside it with stories and opinion.

      This tends to go hand in hand with E-mail list building as you cant build a successful list without having a good relationship with your users. So buttering them up on-site has become the norm in a lot of strategies.

      While it isn't ethical and a lot of sites have been caught out for hiring actors, or Instagram models for example in the health niches. As long as you follow the rules and have the consent of the 'Character' and appropriate disclaimers about how the product is being promoted it becomes in part the responsibility of the user to attain this knowledge if the information is present.

      I hear you though and agree you shouldn't be put in a position that you are having to simply generate a fictitious story out of thin air especially if the niche/products could cause harm by what you are expected to write.

      It's a seriously grey area but does work especially in Health niches which is why it will continue. Recently Amazon took a hit out on fake reviews which is in some way similar and shows that having un-true content on your website can harm user experience.

      I guess what you should ask yourself is would you do this on one of your own websites. If the answer is no then you simply can't be expected to do the same for clients.
      Signature
      VPN Freaks - VPN Guides & Reviews
      {{ DiscussionBoard.errors[10434387].message }}
  • Profile picture of the author Raydal
    It is not wrong to tell a story to illustrate a point (thinkg fairy tales) but it
    is wrong to mislead your readers into thinking you had an experience
    you didn't.

    Reminds me of the Seinfeld episode when Kramer sells his stories
    to Peterman.


    -Ray Edwards
    Signature
    The most powerful and concentrated copywriting training online today bar none! Autoresponder Writing Email SECRETS
    {{ DiscussionBoard.errors[10434875].message }}
  • Profile picture of the author CaRTmAnBrAh
    Most successful million dollar guru marketers faked it till they maked it. That's how this business goes. It's the elephant in the room..
    {{ DiscussionBoard.errors[10434882].message }}
  • In my experience... if the story isn't about what the product does... has done... or results...

    And... if the person isn't claiming to have knowledge they don't have... or claim to have gotten that knowledge in a way they did not (i.e. the notorious death bed bequeathment video from Clickbank 5 years ago)...

    And... if the story being told isn't meant to defraud...

    Then... when done well and ethically you can make up a story.

    What do I mean by that?

    Let's say you're trying to sell a widget that cleans your toilet...

    I have no problem writing an email that starts out, "The other day my wife and I were at dinner at a friends house. I go to use the bathroom and notice the horrible stains inside the toilet. On the ride home my wife says she's never seen a toilet so dirty. That's when I remind her about the bathroom in the basement. She gasps and her mind begins racing a mile a minute. She cries, 'Oh my God, you think anyone noticed last time we hosted game night?'"

    Now... that dinner party never had to exist... you may have never spoken to your wife about toilets in any way... you don't have to have ever hosted game night...

    IMO that story is fine. It's a dramatization used to get someone thinking emotionally about a problem (not necessarily about a product). This is very much like many ethical commercials.

    Any relatable story can work if it's told well. (Granted my story above wasn't.)
    Signature
    The Montello Group
    Copywriting|Publishing|Training
    Your Premier Conversion Cooperative

    Join Us For Free Conversion Webinars
    CLICK HERE!
    {{ DiscussionBoard.errors[10434946].message }}
  • Profile picture of the author Mark Pescetti
    Some of the top controls over the years have used embellished stories...

    Or just flat out made them up.

    Here's a question to always ask yourself:

    Can I tell a story, that isn't true, if it isn't making claims, but instead is used to agitate the problem... so it engages the audience and pulls them in?

    I say yes. Because your intention matters. And there are a lot of ways to accomplish that... in total integrity.

    However...

    There are definitely marketers who flat out lie... because they have a launch coming up, no testimonials and are rushing-to-market. (i.e. chasing money.)

    That's not okay.

    Nor is it okay to take someone's story (who achieved the prospect's ideal results) in a way that wasn't totally based on the solution being pitched.

    And yet...

    Copywriters agree to it all the time... to land or keep a gig.

    It's just a symptom of a much bigger problem...

    Which I'll let someone else bring up.
    Signature

    Do You Want To Make 5 and 6-Figures A Month As A Freelance Copywriter? My Copywriting System Has Made Over 600 Million Dollars. Discover More

    {{ DiscussionBoard.errors[10434992].message }}
    • Profile picture of the author splitTest
      OP -- go with your conscience.

      In the meanwhile, let me tell you about how they laughed when I sat down at the piano... but when I started to play!...

      Irrelevant, but true... Just sayin' -- don't let anyone doubt your talents.
      {{ DiscussionBoard.errors[10439174].message }}
  • Stories are condensed versions of the truth that appeal to our sense of feel.

    Lies kinda try to bulk out the mix to make the truth seem even condenser.
    Signature

    Lightin' fuses is for blowin' stuff togethah.

    {{ DiscussionBoard.errors[10435010].message }}
    • Profile picture of the author Cam Connor
      Originally Posted by Princess Balestra View Post

      Stories are condensed versions of the truth that appeal to our sense of feel.

      Lies kinda try to bulk out the mix to make the truth seem even condenser.
      LOL,

      PB, I'm luvin that avatar of yours.

      -Cam
      {{ DiscussionBoard.errors[10435217].message }}
  • Profile picture of the author RickDuris
    I got nuthin' to say other than "Frickn' crazy Russian programmers that wrote some of the best Internet money-making code ever that got paid in vodka."
    Signature
    {{ DiscussionBoard.errors[10435018].message }}
  • Profile picture of the author FreedomBlogger
    Lying is just unethical and I don't think is even legal to tell a made up story and involve income and money, to sell something.

    When you talk about income, and just making money, you need to be compliant, and show an income disclosure.

    If you do not, it can get you into serious legal problem in the US!

    The companies that do not educate their affiliates to ALWAYS mention their Income Disclosure Page, when talking about making money and earnings, usually get in legal trouble!

    It happens all the time!

    People need to learn the laws here! ... for real!

    When you talk about making money, with a program, or company, you must always tell people to go to a Income Disclosure Page, right after you talked about making money with such program or company.

    People are just not too used to do that. And this starts with the programs and companies - they just do not really care to educate their affiliates.

    Of course, the one who gets into legal problems is the program or company. So I guess people just dont care most of the time. But if you are making good money with a company, wouldn't you want to also help it grow and evolve? ..right!

    Im not sure if companies online lie sometimes to get people to buy as much as possible - but I'll tell you this, if the company does not care to CLEARLY State an Income Disclosure Page, then perhaps they are also doing a few unethical things.

    Just my 2cents on this matter
    Signature
    At the beginning, I thought making money online with a blog was super super hard. Not anymore. Learn the art of making money online blogging - step by step - HERE.
    {{ DiscussionBoard.errors[10435260].message }}
    • Profile picture of the author James Druman
      Originally Posted by FreedomBlogger View Post

      Lying is just unethical and I don't think is even legal to tell a made up story and involve income and money, to sell something.

      When you talk about income, and just making money, you need to be compliant, and show an income disclosure.

      If you do not, it can get you into serious legal problem in the US!

      The companies that do not educate their affiliates to ALWAYS mention their Income Disclosure Page, when talking about making money and earnings, usually get in legal trouble!

      It happens all the time!

      People need to learn the laws here! ... for real!

      When you talk about making money, with a program, or company, you must always tell people to go to a Income Disclosure Page, right after you talked about making money with such program or company.

      People are just not too used to do that. And this starts with the programs and companies - they just do not really care to educate their affiliates.

      Of course, the one who gets into legal problems is the program or company. So I guess people just dont care most of the time. But if you are making good money with a company, wouldn't you want to also help it grow and evolve? ..right!

      Im not sure if companies online lie sometimes to get people to buy as much as possible - but I'll tell you this, if the company does not care to CLEARLY State an Income Disclosure Page, then perhaps they are also doing a few unethical things.

      Just my 2cents on this matter
      While I completely agree with you, no one ever said anything about making income claims. It was about making up a background of a "character" that the product creator didn't actually have - i.e. having special insider information from having worked in a specific insider capacity. I specifically mentioned the legalities of the unsubstantiated income claims in the OP.

      So, yeah, there's still some major ethical issues here and I do agree with you, but you seem to be getting a little excited about something we weren't actually talking about. In any case, I declined to do the job under these terms.
      {{ DiscussionBoard.errors[10435519].message }}
    • Profile picture of the author MikeHumphreys
      Originally Posted by FreedomBlogger View Post

      Lying is just unethical and I don't think is even legal to tell a made up story and involve income and money, to sell something.
      It depends on what you're claiming. The story and the claim are two different things. The story (or fictional character) doesn't have to be proven it's real.

      The claim often needs to be in order to be considered ethical.

      However, a lot of marketing and ads use unproven stories and implied claims and still are considered an ethical piece.

      Example #1:

      Geico uses a talking gecko to talk about saving money on insurance. That's their spokesperson and they've used it in a variety of TV spots or stories. They've done it for years and as far I know, they've never been sued by the FTC for misleading or defrauding consumers.

      Last time I checked, talking geckos don't exist. If they don't exist, then their story (and spokesperson) is not real.

      But their claim isn't that the talking gecko is real.

      Their claim is you can save money by going with their service. They hedge their bets legally by saying "save up to 15%" but they don't commit to "everybody saves 15%".

      So someone might not save any money at all with their service. Or the savings might be 0.005%. (I don't know, I've never dealt with their service.)

      I can't ever recall a Geico ad showing any customer testimonials stating how much money they've saved switching insurance providers. Same with any screenshots of independent studies showing the savings either.

      Example #2:

      The Wall Street Journal used a direct mail letter about two men who both graduated from the same college. 25 years later, one of them was a low-level manager. The other was president of the same company.

      It was a powerhouse control for 28 years. Sold over a billion dollars worth of WSJ subscriptions until it was finally beaten as a control.

      The story in the salesletter never said who the two men were. Or if they actually existed. It never says what college they went to either.

      (It's a beautiful piece that was written by the late Martin Conroy. You can read an excerpt of it here: The Greatest Sales Letter of All Time - Copyblogger )

      The story is about two men who graduated from the same college. That may or may not be true. We don't have any way to "prove" they did.

      The claim is the difference between the two men was a subscription to the Wall Street journal. But the claim was never stated... it was implied.

      To the OP... go with your gut feeling.
      {{ DiscussionBoard.errors[10439313].message }}
      • Profile picture of the author James Druman
        ^ You mean Captian Crunch isn't really a Captain?! haha

        Yes, the above is the only reason I had myself questioning the ethics. I've seen tons of companies use "characters" in their marketing, often very realistic ones that weren't as obviously conjured like the Geico Gecko, and I'm curious where the line of justification ends on that for the marketing world.

        Anyhow, for this particular niche I just decided it wasn't something I'm willing to do, and maybe I just need to increase my knowledge in this area before pushing any boundaries there as a copywriter, if I ever decide to at all.

        Thanks a lot for all the great input in this thread, guys. It was a bit uncomfortable putting out this hole in my understanding publicly as a copywriter, but I really do appreciate all the feedback.
        {{ DiscussionBoard.errors[10439361].message }}
  • Profile picture of the author 1Bryan
    You never have to lie to sell. There's always a true story there that'll sell. Good copywriters can sniff it out. Fraudsters and hacks can't, so they lie.

    Ultimately, you probably should run the EXACT situation by a lawyer who knows the ad laws in the space you are trying to sell in. Legal beagles ain't all bad.

    Giving advice for questions like this? That's kind of what they're useful for.

    Folks on a forum? I wouldn't make my decisions based on that. Not even for what brand of milk I should buy. Let alone things that have to do with advertising laws.
    {{ DiscussionBoard.errors[10435856].message }}
  • Profile picture of the author pewpewpewmonkeys
    "The other day my wife and I were at dinner at a friends house. I go to use the bathroom and notice the horrible stains inside the toilet. On the ride home my wife says she's never seen a toilet so dirty. That's when I remind her about the bathroom in the basement. She gasps and her mind begins racing a mile a minute. She cries, 'Oh my God, you think anyone noticed last time we hosted game night?'"
    So are you going to tell me how my nasty toilet can get cleaned or not?
    Signature
    Some cause-oriented hackers recently hacked one of my websites. So I researched what they're about and then donated a large sum of money to the entity they hate the most.

    The next time they hack one of my websites I'm going to donate DOUBLE.
    {{ DiscussionBoard.errors[10436660].message }}
  • Profile picture of the author yukon
    Banned
    You already know it's a lie, you're obviously not going to tell traffic either way.

    If I tell you I'm Warren Buffett & try to sell you a stock secret, is that a lie or storytelling? Duh, it's a lie.
    Signature
    Hi
    {{ DiscussionBoard.errors[10436678].message }}
  • All our conversations are storytellin'.

    All our thoughts are swirls of narrative tryin' to find a home.

    Problem is, this ain't the same thing as The Truth.

    In our own lives, the stories play out with an unnervingly opaque certainty.

    Some of what we think an' say an' know will inevitably be untrue, saints an' sinners alike.

    It is a joke in writin' circles to talk of the "fictional novel", as if somehow novels were not fiction.

    But from a marketin' perspective it mebbe helps to think of the "fictional story": the manufactured version of The Truth you wish to proclaim.

    I got some ideas runnin' round my head right now might turn out true, might turn out bogus.

    But their play on me is happenin' out into words and deeds (because, what else have I got — to work with & to work toward?), an' only some outcome further down the line gonna help me figure more of an angle on the truth. Or even The Truth.

    It is open season.

    But a "fictional story" is self-contained.

    Beginnin', middle, endin'.

    Adjectives stripped, dialog pruned down to the kinda essentials everyone understands but no one ever speaks for real.

    Loose ends tied up, narrative self-contained, point of the story punched up by the manner of its tellin'.

    It is so much easier to examine an' change these "fictional stories" than the ones unfoldin' in your lives, dear reader, as you run your eyes over these words.

    These stories have periods; you just got ellipses.

    In this way, alla the "stories" we are talkin' about here in the created narrative biz are abject lies, warped versions of the narrative we experience daily as seekers of an unfoldin' truth.

    But what we lose in content, we win out in purity of form, an' that kinda helps when we re-stuff the bird.

    So I figure when you have all the elements of your story accessible in this "fictional story" way, kinda restrained an' tangible an' finite, you can see more readily when embellishment becomes false claim, when pruning turns to concealment, when the point of the story corrupts its intrinsic elements and betrays it from the outside in.

    Gotta constrain evrythin' this way because life is a monster livin' on the edge.

    Until we admit to the rampant maraudin' of pure fiction in our day-to-day lives — the moment to moment sensory romp fightin' to exist on tips of tongues and fingertips — pinnin' stuff down in any kinda formal way to serve as a funnel for any kinda truth gonna be like an elephant tryin' to pick up an oiled squid.

    If somethin' gonna be "of vast import to the nation", everyone gotta believe it.
    Signature

    Lightin' fuses is for blowin' stuff togethah.

    {{ DiscussionBoard.errors[10436723].message }}
  • Profile picture of the author Nikhil V Nair
    The famous "Wall Street Journal" Copy told an imaginary story
    that made it one of the best copy ever.

    That letter never said the one who became more successful
    subscribed to Wall Street Journal but revealed the importance
    of the Right knowledge at the right time.

    If you use a story to explain a point, then even an imaginary story
    is ethical (in my opinion). But if you tell a story as if "It happened to YOU",
    then it should be true.
    Signature
    {{ DiscussionBoard.errors[10442111].message }}
  • Hi James,

    Originally Posted by James Druman View Post

    The Difference Between Storytelling and
    Lying
    For me it comes down to one's own in-depth research. The more research I do, more facts and true stories come to light. Inside all that data is where the product's ethical and profitable story lives.
    {{ DiscussionBoard.errors[10450747].message }}

Trending Topics