Honesty Is The Only Policy

“This is Terrifying!”

That was the first truth I’d admit to the 150-person crowd at The Music Hall in Portsmouth where I recently gave a talk at Creative Mornings. My topic? Beyond. My task? Finding a way to make that word my own, while also making it relatable to the bodies in the room, each with their own truths to face. These weren’t just random bodies. They were creative peers from my own community.

“It’s terrifying because I know some of you, and if I screw this up, I’ll have to ignore you in line at the grocery store.”

The crowd laughed, and I let out a sigh of relief. At worst, it was self-deprecation. At best, it was an act of honesty. Either way, five minutes before the talk I felt like I was going to be sick, and admitting it openly set the tone for my talk.

Honesty is the only policy.

Here’s another truth: You can’t only be honest when it’s easy. Honesty can be uncomfortable.

We hear time and time again that brands aren’t people. Yet, to appear relatable, they often take on human qualities. That’s why, when brands we love aren’t honest, the backlash rivals the rage we feel when someone we know isn’t honest. It’s why, when an airline screws up, the only thing more upsetting than the blunder is the lack of transparency the company shows in the aftermath. When we find out a startup with an ethos rooted in supporting women isn’t treating the women in their company fairly, the brand feels disingenuous, and we feel lied to.

Honesty is also why brands like Cedar’s and Stonyfield have been winning since the beginning.  That kind of day one honesty requires more investment up front, but it pays off in the long run.
It’s also why the Mcdonald’s Our Food, Your Questions campaign worked. The platform was built around answering people’s questions, ranging from admitting to the use of legal hormones to confirming that some of their products may contain GMO’s. While MacDonald’s still has a long way to go, that campaign was one step in the right direction.

By leaning into that discomfort, McDonald’s showed their consumers that they take accountability for the good, the bad, and even the potentially damning. When it comes to earning trust in a rapidly changing fast food space, that one step proved to be a huge one.

The first step is the hardest.

It means going from a state of ignoring to a state of acknowledging. You don’t have to be a billion-dollar corporation. You also don’t have to Eat, Pray, Love your way through Italy or jump out of a plane. Sometimes it simply means showing up for yourself, your company, your consumers, or even your peers. Once you do, you’ll often find your biggest breakthroughs lie just one step beyond what you thought you were capable of.


Carley Barton is a copywriter at GYK Antler.


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