One of my favorite episodes of Seinfeld is when George Costanza coaches Jerry how to pass a lie detector test in order to impress a woman he wants to date. George offers advice by saying, “Jerry, it’s not a lie if you believe it.”
Last week, I watched Lance Armstrong’s stunning confession to Oprah and saw the same twisted mindset. Lance seemed to feel more frustrated that he caught rather than the fact he hurt other people’s lives. He admitted that he redefined the word “cheating” in his mind, because he carried a win-at-all-costs attitude. It’s not cheating if you’re doping to win the race because other men are doping, too. Ironically, Lance stated that winning his famous battle with cancer led to his must-win attitude that made bending the rules seem okay.
As Lance’s cycling victories piled up, he parlayed his success into one of the best marketing brands in the world – the Armstrong name and the Livestrong foundation. He landed some of the biggest endorsement deals in sports history and helped raise over $500 million in donations for cancer research. But, now we learn that his cycling career and marketing empire was all based on a house of cards. Lance had been illegally doping for years and stubbornly lied about it when confronted with the truth. His confession may help some people gain closure, but I doubt he’ll ever be trusted again. In addition, Lance was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, asked to return his Olympic medal, and lost all of his endorsement income. Plus, a bevy of lawsuits against him are on the horizon.
In the context of marketing, people buy products and services based on trust. Therefore, your promotional efforts have to be built on a foundation of credibility. Marketing means you’re telling people that if they give you their money, then you’ll give them a desired result in return – whether it’s information, service, entertainment, or inspiration. You can try to woo people with false advertising or grandiose claims. But, your marketing will eventually collapse if it’s not based on tangible value.
One of the best ways to keep your marketing honest is by letting other people promote your brand. It’s harder to cheat when you put your reputation into someone else’s hands. That’s why capturing and displaying legitimate testimonials and success stories are so important. It’s easier to avoid exaggerating your marketing claims when your promotional language is focused on another person’s testimony.
Professional liars are not limited to overzealous athletes. Companies and non-profits also get caught overstating the value of their products and services. But, as the story of Lance Armstrong shows, a win-at-all-costs approach to marketing will eventually cause you to lose it all…and cost you everything.