Lies don’t sell. Truth well told does

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Lies don’t sell. Truth well told does   By Jonathan Fine. October 21, 2016.

I shared a platform with Martin Kelleher in front of 150 dentists in Belfast recently and I have to say he was one of the most entertaining speakers I’ve heard for years.

We were there in part to debate the role of marketing in dentistry. You probably know who Martin is; he’s one of the doyens of dentistry and hugely respected in Ireland and the UK, and for good reason. He’s pretty old school, which in some small part probably explains his instinctive suspicion of marketing in dentistry (which, incidentally, I’ve written a book about), but he’s got the CV to back that old schoolness up: consultant in restorative dentistry at King’s, past president of the British Society for Restorative Dentistry, former board member of Dental Protection and chair of its advisory committee for dental claims.

Martin is on a crusade. He hates dentists overselling their services and he takes an especially dim view of dentists telling their patients more about the service they’re most skilled in instead of being impartial advisors on long term dental health. He particularly hates the way marketing has played a misleading role in promising patients incredible and sustainable outcomes.

The man has serious traction and he knows how to make an argument. I first became aware of his trenchant views about dental marketing when I read his guest editorial in Dental Update this September called The ‘Uberization of orthodontics’ — or how low can you go? It’s worth a read, and if you do read it, you’ll notice that Martin is extremely angry about what he terms “the race to the bottom” in orthodontics. He doesn’t mince his words, and he knows who to blame for the debasement of a profession that was admired and prestigious when he signed up. It’s the marketeers – of which, as you know, I am one.

But I’m afraid that Martin may have a warped view of marketing. One of the key things that good marketing always does is tell the truth, because the truth is more compelling than fairy stories. There is absolutely no need to make outrageous and unbelievable promises.

I worked at the world’s biggest marketing services group for a long stretch of my career, and I can tell you that the founding principal at McCann Erickson is telling the story properly, not making it up. Take a look at the website — not only will you be met with the slogan TRUTH WELL TOLD off the bat (which McCann uses in all its literature), you’ll see that McCann has a department called Truth Central, which is responsible for pumping out thought leadership reports every quarter dedicated to unearthing truths that can be leveraged in different markets across the globe.

McCann erickson plaque

Leveraging truth is a bit different from making up stories, mainly because it actually works.


There’s no excuse for poor marketing, and certainly not for dishonest marketing, and there’s no need for them either: authenticity and truth sell every time when you know how to communicate properly. That ability to communicate is a rather rarified skill which is why you see a lot of piss poor marketing around (especially in dentistry) and why good marketing is expensive. It can change the fortune of businesses overnight and it very often does.

I loved watching Martin deliver his side of the story in Belfast in his inimitably gritty style of, “some dentists are feckin bandits worrying about mortgage payments so they will stiff a whole load of patients with Mr Ed type teeth that they don’t need…” — like I said, he’s the best speaker I’ve seen in years, and the man is something to behold; he’s salty, so salty that he’s even from Athenrye, a place they sing about when Ireland plays rugby.

I share his dislike for bad marketing but I do believe there’s a place for great marketing in dentistry, now more than ever. I expect I’ll be having many more debates with him on this subject, which I’m really looking forward to. This feels like a really fertile area to be discussing because I know many dentists share his views and feel uncomfortable with the direction of travel dentistry’s in right now.

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“There is no need to make outrageous and unbelievable promises”

Jonathan Fine, MD

Author: Jonathan Fine