Can a content marketing campaign be transparent? In other words, can it come from a place of honesty?

The answer is that it has to be transparent. If a marketing campaign isn’t honest and believable, it won’t have any real meaning for the people who see it.

An Honest Self-Assessment

Customers appreciate honesty and are beginning to expect it more and more. If something sounds fishy in an advertisement, chances are a customer can find a more accurate assessment somewhere online. It doesn’t pay to fake it anymore.

Which is something Volkswagen discovered way back in 1960 with the Think Small campaign around the VW Beetle.

At the time, Americans were buying huge cars. There simply wasn’t a market for a car as small as the Beetle.

But instead of pretending that the Beetle was a bigger car, the folks at VW’s advertising company simply put out the truth – to see if Americans would possibly change their minds. And Americans did, buying millions of Beetles in the coming decades.


While some people regard space exploration as one of the most noble pursuits humans undertake, plenty of others question it, especially when we’re staring at problems here on Earth.

Over the years, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) remained in operation despite spectacular setbacks. A major force behind NASA’s continued existence has been its transparency with the media – as much during the setbacks as during the successes. In fact, the failures have been as much a part of NASA’s successful marketing campaign as anything else.

Those alive at the time will, of course, remember Neil Armstrong stepping out onto the surface of Mars. But those alive at the time will also remember Apollo 11’s harrowing trip around the moon and the Space Shuttle Challenger’s startling explosion during takeoff.

As Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson has said in the past, no company (or, in this case, agency) is perfect, and the general public can connect better to a company that shows its true character, warts and all.

Openness toward the media and a close relationship with the U.S. government have been NASA’s best PR assets from the start. Ever since Houston’s Johnson Space Center director Chris Kraft insisted that television cameras be placed on the lunar lander in 1969 and reporters invited inside mission control during the Apollo 13 mission, the public has closely witnessed NASA activities – both awe-inspiring and tragic alike. Those historic moments have helped the public overlook the huge taxpayer expenses and numerous technical debacles that could otherwise have jeopardized the future of the organization.

An Understated Gesture

During World War I, many of France’s architectural monuments deteriorated because of neglect. Understandably, the French had other things on their minds besides historical preservation.

The Chateau of Versailles, former hunting lodge and then spectacular symbol of the French monarchy before the French Revolution in 1789, looked particularly worse for wear after being half-abandoned during the war.

Moved by the extent of the damage when he visited Europe, the American billionaire John Davison Rockefeller Junior (1874-1960), son of the founder of Standard Oil, offered the French government in 1924 to finance the restoration of three great monuments: the cathedral of Reims, badly damaged by the German bombardments of the start of the war, and the palaces of Versailles and Fontainebleau…The intervention of the Rockefellers was the first large sponsorship of Versailles, and was to be followed by many others.


One of the renovations funded by the Rockefellers over the years was the restoration of the chateau’s roof. It represented a genuine gesture because, unlike the gardens or the façade or the Hall of Mirrors, no one sees the roof.

When visiting Versailles, tour guides will talk about the restoration projects, which have continued to this day. Visitors will see the work done to the buildings, the gardens and the grounds.

However, they won’t see the roof. And unless a knowing and grateful tour guide points it out, visitors won’t know of the Rockefellers’ gesture.

However, there are knowing and grateful tour guides who do point it out. Because it represented a vital improvement to the chateau that garnered the Rockefellers no publicity or praise. In other words, it was genuine – and the tour guides at Versailles appreciate that and spread the word. To this day.

Marketing Can and Should Be Transparent

As flawed creatures, humans have a hard time buying into other creatures that appear to be perfect. Frankly, we don’t believe it. And that goes for corporations as much as for other humans.

Marketing is about making a connection with the general public and potential customers. If your marketing campaigns represent your company as being a flawless, characterless ideal, customers won’t buy into it. In marketing, a little honesty can go a long way.


By Charlie Smith