Don't Make Me Lie

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The only thing I hate more than people who lie is when I’m being forced to lie to others.

Don’t make me lie. This was my conversation with a recent border crossing guard at the airport:

  • Guard: What is the purpose of your travel?
  • Me: Business.
  • Guard: What kind of business? (already visibly frustrated).
  • Me: I have a business meeting.
  • Guard: With whom? (rolling his eyes and puffing).
  • Me: [insert name of business and and person I am meeting] to discuss a potential partnership.
  • Guard: Why? (motioning his hands with a "get on with it!" attitude).
  • Me: Because we feel like there may be an opportunity to work together. We’re just meeting to see if it is even a possibility.
  • Guard: When do you get back?
  • Me: This evening.
  • Guard: Why so fast?
  • Me: It’s just one meeting.
  • Guard: What line of business are you in? (he’s getting aggressive now).
  • Me: Marketing.
  • Guard: What kind of marketing? (in a raised voice).
  • Me: Digital marketing – to helps brands on the Internet.
  • Guard: Next time you need a letter.
  • Me: Thank you… I understand. (I gather my documents take a few steps away, and then return to face the guard)… Excuse me, but a letter from who and about what?
  • Guard: It’s called a B1… look it up. (he waves me off).

Well, that wasn’t pleasant.

I often talk about my business travel here on the blog (over 150,000 air miles every year). I have a Nexus card (which enables me to be pre-screened) and I know the rules about travelling from Canada into the US. In my hundreds of trips each year, this was the first one (in a long while) where I had an encounter like this. Sure, the guard may have woken up on the wrong side of the bed, but I was following the rules as I know them. I answered the questions that I am asked directly, succinctly, honestly, politely and with a smile. There are two reasons for this:

  1. There is no reason to lie or not be nice to everyone.
  2. If I do lie or hide something, I risk losing my Nexus card (and I really don’t want that to happen).

Lying would have been easier.

I could have just said, it’s personal travel and not for business. I could have just said that I was going to see a friend for the day. The truth is, the person I am visiting is a friend, but I am going to meet them for business. As I sat in the lounge having my pre-flight breakfast, I realized how bothered I was by this minor inconvenience. What bothered me most was not the aggressive tone of the guard, or the fact that I actually don’t need a B1 visa for a meeting of this nature, but that had I lied, life would have been simpler. I see this all of the time. I see it in how senior executives speak to their teams, I see it how people manage their careers and I see it in how brands communicate with consumers. People lie thinking that it’s the better, easier or safer solution. Is it?

It’s not me… it’s you.

There is a certain level of protectionism that comes with lying, fibbing or shadowing the truth. Brands feel like they’re providing more a service to the consumer rather than confusing them with all of the gory details. Consumer advocates argue that the "fine print" is nothing more than a legal way for brands and advertisers to blur the truth in front of consumers. I’d like to disagree, but it’s hard.

The truth… simplified.

Some argue that people can’t handle the truth. Here’s where a brand can get better traction: if your product is what it is and does what it says it does, the only real role that marketing plays is in helping consumers to see the benefits over what you have against the competition. Not having that competitive advantage is no reason to lie. The true marketing imperative – at that point of inflection -  is to build into your products and services something that is unique, valuable and includes additional utility to the consumer. The truth is that I was telling this border guard the truth, when I could have lied. It may have been easier to do that, It may have frustrated him more to deal with me (not sure why), but it is what it is.

I wish more brands would stand up, take accountability and tell their own truth, regardless of those consumers who may act like the border guard. 


  1. I’ve always been an advocate of producing clear, honest consumer-facing copy, even when bucking the general consensus. Most consumers are more savvy than generally given credit for. And one doesn’t build long-term brand loyalty through lies and manipulation, does one?

  2. It’s a hard truth to swallow (pardon the pun), but lying can be more expedient.
    It doesn’t mean it’s right, it’s just faster.
    In the modern world, we’re fast enough. Taking the time to tell the truth is an inconvenience that retains our honor; and as you showed us, thats worth taking the time to do.

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