Web design offers the creative licence to make the smallest business look like a multi national PLC. A good web designer can employ all manner of smoke and mirrors to give any client the image they want, but is this lack of honesty always the best practice?

If pushed I’d say the most crucial elements of a good website design are:

  • Ease of use
  • Page load speed
  • Original content
  • Appearance
  • Call to action

I could go on of course but these elements are a good start. Up to date informative content is by far the most important element of a good website for both click conversions and SEO but what about honesty?

If you remember the movie “Crazy People” starring Dudley Moore as an overworked ad executive who finds himself in a mental institution. With the help of the other patients they create brutally honest advertisements that are phenomenally successful. One that sticks in my mind was an advertisement for Volvo “They’re boxy but they’re good”.

Although the movie and the content was designed for comedy value there is I think some lessons we can take from this.

I remember one of the first websites I designed back in the late 1990s was for a company that I was involved with. We were a home improvement manufacturing company in St Helens and our factory was in the cheapest part of town on a run down industrial estate. We openly admitted this on our website and attributed our competitive prices to our low overheads, I can’t remember the exact words that were used but it was along the lines of:

“Our factory is on pretty ugly industrial estate with pot holes on the car park and anti burglary paint on the downspouts but the rent is 50% less than the swanky factories across town, the decision to rent this factory was deliberate as it reduces our fixed costs and allows us to make the same quality product for much less.”

Many customers commented on how refreshing our brutal honesty was, most importantly it made the phone ring. Our honesty explained to people how we were so competitive. It addressed our weakness and turned it into a positive.

This idea of honesty based marketing isn’t new, I first came across it many years ago when I was in my late teens, I was reading a book by the late Joe Karbo who had come up with a similar campaign for one of his clients in the 1970s.

The client was a car dealer who wasn’t in a great part of town and didn’t have sharp suited salesmen. Joe designed an ad for him on public access TV that starred the owner who was stood in front of the car lot. He introduced himself, introduced the business and then said “We aren’t on the best road in town, and our salesmen are a bit green but come and visit us and see how much cheaper our cars are” The ad was a great success by all accounts.

Website Design, Honesty and Customer Confidence

Given that a large percentage of internet users are still very wary about internet security, hacking, credit card details etc then surely a brutally honest approach would pay dividends? If you’re a large company then great, showcase what it is that you do.  If you’re not then don’t give the impression of being. Be honest, tell your readers that it’s a family run business, play to your strengths, be totally honest and even self critical.

People like unusual marketing. A couple of years ago when Dixons decided to exit the website design - marketinghigh street and concentrate on website sales they recruited M&C Saatchi to design some new adverts for them. They were cutting edge but people identified with them.

Similarly, Domino’s Pizza embarked on a campaign in 2010 that was so refreshing it resulted in a 14% increase in turnover in the following quarter. They made a video for TV use, they had newspaper adverts published and even designed a website just to promote this self criticism http://www.pizzaturnaround.com/ .

The video that you can watch on the website shows the company executives reading out customer criticisms such as “The crust tastes like cardboard, and the sauce like ketchup” this was a very brave decision but one that paid off. Why? as people I think we warm to anybody who can admit their failings, we like honesty, we like giving second chances and we like the underdog.

I’ll leave you with a classic example of admitting weakness to your customers. This example is before the days of websites and the internet.

Lee Iacocca was the man who engineered the famous Ford Mustang. After leaving Ford he became Chairman of Chrysler who were in serious financial trouble. Iacocca approached congress for a 1.2 billion dollar loan guarantee. Iacocca explained that the infrastructure that depended on Chrysler namely the railroads, the steel industry and many more were at risk if Chrysler were to go out of business. Iacocca told congress that the economy would slump, the stock exchange crash and that there would be mass unemployment not just from Chrysler but from the thousands of US companies who supplied them.

Congress agreed to the loan guarantee. Iacocca then booked time on all the major TV channels across the USA and told the same story to millions of viewers, he touched the hearts of the people with his honesty, he told them that Chrysler was in trouble and it affected every American citizen, he then show cased the new Chrysler cars and asked everybody who was considering a new car to please consider Chrysler and America. Needless to say he turned the Chrysler corporation around.

So, if you’re a small business in St Helens, then say so on your website, If you have a weakness then turn it into a positive. Design your marketing and website around this and it should work to your advantage.

If I can be of any help with your website design and marketing then please use the black contact button on the right of the screen.


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