When I started this post, I intended to write about how important it is to make sure your content marketing efforts don’t reveal that, deep down in your corporate heart, you secretly think your customers may be stupid. And then I realized that might come across as hypocritical since I’ve been blogging a good bit lately about how companies often aim their content way too far down the sales funnel.

But there’s a difference between recognizing that your customers might lack your depth of knowledge in a certain subject matter and doubting their ability to engage in critical thinking. The latter is what I mean by “stupid.”

My examples must have been influenced by the season, because they’re all about a particularly annoying version of assumed stupidity: companies who try to pretend they exist only to serve humanity. Who pretend that every executive doesn’t know the latest sales data down to the penny. The Grinches who try to convince Cindy Lou that they’re just taking the Christmas tree off for repairs.

Companies do that all the time, but the behavior seems to intensify this time of year, with everyone ramping up their efforts to prove they deserve to be on Santa’s nice list.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m a diehard capitalist. I have no problem whatsoever with companies trying to generate a profit. But I’m honest about it, and you should be, too. So, before you spend too much time polishing your halo, take a minute to learn about some sneaky tactics that Santa — and your customers — can see right through.

Pretending profits aren’t a thing

My kids (two tweens and a teen) are as susceptible to “too good to be true” offers as anyone else their age. The first question I teach them to ask when evaluating these offers is, “How do they make money?” I teach them that knowing whether a vlogger is being paid to promote a certain product is a pretty important piece of information when they’re trying to decide how much weight to give the recommendation. I also keep two marketing truths on a repetitive loop: “If it’s free to you, then who is paying for it?” and “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.”

This is especially true for referral sites like A Place for Mom, Angie’s List, Home Advisor, etc. It doesn’t take a whole lot of critical thinking for most adults to realize that service providers must be paying a fee to be on those referral lists. And most customers won’t have a problem with it; they’ll just add a few extra grains of salt to their decision-making process to make up for that implicit bias. But pretending your referral platform isn’t a profitable business is another matter entirely.

Pretending you’re in the business purely to better the human condition only works until people take a minute to think. Once they do, they’ll feel stupid for not seeing the truth sooner (and will probably hate you for it) and they’ll lose any trust they had in you and your offerings. So be transparent about where your money comes from.

Takeaway: Make sure your halo isn’t too tight.

 

Pretending you’re the lone saint in a den of thieves

The highlight of my morning makeup routine is making fun of an ad by a certain auto insurance company (let’s call it Brad Mutual). The main goal of this ad seems to be demonizing insurance companies that raise rates after an accident. The truth, however, is that, while the amount of a rate increase can vary from one company to another, it’s a standard industry practice, with the average premium increase after a first accident falling somewhere between 20-40%¬†of the base premium.

So, while first-accident forgiveness is a valid feature to crow about, Brad Mutual’s ads would be much more credible if they were to stop pretending to be the only innocent insurance company in a den of thieves. Brad, we’re just not that stupid.

Takeaway: Take the dang halo off and put it in storage, already.

 

Don’t expect Santa to count good deeds you were forced to do

Whether you’ve invested millions in green energy, replaced faulty products, or made your workplace safer for employees, don’t brag about it if someone (EPA, OSHA, etc.) made you do it.

Take away: Just don’t. People laugh at you when you brag about paying taxes. They’ll laugh at you for this, too.

 

When my kids were bitty, their behavior became absolutely angelic in the weeks leading up to Christmas. And it still tickles me that they never realized how transparent it all was. That it never occurred to them that I knew the whole time they were trying to impress Santa.

Don’t be like my kids when they were still in pull-ups. We all want to look good. And the more customers and investors pressure businesses to be socially responsible, the more the pressure to be on the nice list will increase. But being good is a lot more effective than telling everybody how good you are. Like my southern mama always said, “If you have to tell people you’re a lady, you’re not.”

‘Cause we ain’t stupid, y’all.