Two Sides Of The Truth

Using truth in your marketing has two paradoxical sides.


First, you must understand that people on the whole, to paraphrase Jack Nicholson's character in the film A Few Good Men, “can't handle the truth”. They don't want to hear it.

But they need to hear it.

This is why we often are forced to sugarcoat the truth in order to get people to swallow it.

For instance, if you are selling a diet product you may, in your marketing, say to your prospects, “it's not your fault”. But the truth is, it is their fault. Nobody forced them to slam donuts down their neck every day. So how can we honestly and ethically say that it is not their fault? We might zoom out to the macro level, realizing it's not their fault they didn't have proper nutritional education. We let them off the hook a little bit, and then we zoom back in and remind them that now that they understand the truth about why they are overweight, it is now their responsibility. That's an example of sugarcoating the truth in order to get people to swallow it!

Now, to the paradox I mentioned…

Many people are tired of being sold a pack of lies, especially in certain markets (like the diet industry, the investment industry, or the business opportunity industry).

To people who are sick of lies and hype, nothing will sell better than unvarnished truth.

The trick, of course, is to know when to sugarcoat, and when to just tell the hard truth.

For a good example of telling the truth and selling products like hotcakes at the same time, look no further than Beach Body's P90X program. This program promises hard work, pain, sweat. And results. Everybody knows by now that those are the required ingredients for a set of six-pack abs. So for Beach Body, the unvarnished truth was the right way to go.

Question for you: Do you sugarcoat, or do you tell your prospects the cold, hard, truth?

Ray Edwards is a world-renowned copywriter and communications strategist, writing for some of the most powerful voices in leadership and business including New York Times bestselling authors Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul) and Tony Robbins. Ray is a sought-after speaker and author, hosts a popular weekly podcast, and blogs at

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  • 1 Corinthians 3:2, The secret is to know your audience I think. Knowing who you are directing your marketing to definitely makes a difference as to how much sugar to add and whether or not to puree the information before serving.

  • I want you to tell me the truth… with grace.

    As a former pastor, I got a letter once that began, “I’m telling you the truth in love,” which right away got my defenses up. What followed was not “in love,” but was a vendetta of personal grievances over matters of preference. It would have been better to have expressed herself with graciousness.

    Same with marketing, I think. I’ll come across better if truth is not harsh but is served with grace. Perhaps it’s a matter of perspective: I care about me and my truth vs. I care about you and your welfare.

    • Well said Dennis. “Telling the truth in love” is not a license to be unkind!

  • I’ve heard it said that how you start is often how you finish. If in the beginning I need to stray away from the truth for any reason, I’m likely to have to continue that trend through the entire process. My information then becomes suspect and probably ineffective, all in the name of having to coddle my audience to protect them from the truth hurting their feelings. As in your P90X example, the joy of being a writer is taking the truth and illustrating how, regardless of the personal cost, it will yield sustainable benefits. If my audience knows whats expected up front, I honor them by allowing them to make an informed decision.

  • Ruth Chapman

    Yes, I think it is a fine line, or maybe a tightrope, to be able to balance just how much bluntness to put out there vs. delicate sugarcoating. Too much sugarcoating and the audience could feel the messenger is hiding something. Too much honesty, and the audience might be offended. This probably takes some experience, either your own or learned from knowledgeable mentors, to get it right.

  • Norman Dunaway

    Nothing is new under the sun. When Christ was walking on earth, it was hard for man to accept the truth directly from His mouth too. Believing the lie is much more convenient it seems. Standing for the truth and accepting the truth comes with a price. It has always been that way and always will be that way.

  • Have I sugarcoated? Yep. Especially when I created my first few ebooks. I sold a lot of ‘hope’ and majority bought into it. I did have a few who asked foe a refund because they did not believe what I promised measured up with the content.

    I look at things very different now and I believe the hype bubble has busted. We need to tell people what they want to hear but we need to do it better. The over-promising has taken its toll. Nowadays I’m as straight as I can be.