Empty Promises: Hand-In-Hand With Good Intentions

Half Truth: Women make strong commitments to a healthy lifestyle.

Whole Truth: Women have the best of intentions, but life gets in the way.

Women talk a good game of sticking to promises, even if they don’t actually follow through. They really do hope to organize their lives, stay on top of their finances, and take control of the unbelievably large amount of time they spend online. So how can marketers capitalize on their Good Intentions without getting shortchanged?

In face-to-face research, the first simple step to eliciting a woman’s Whole Truths rests with a one-word question: ‘Really?’ When a woman starts to preach about her rigorous beauty regimen (‘I never go to bed without carefully removing my makeup’) or how she plans to use all the applications of your new tech toy (‘I always read the entire instruction manual first’), try following up with ‘Really?’ in your most amazed, shocked voice. Let the word hang in the air for a moment. It’s funny how women will laugh and begin to confess how many times they have strayed and what they really do.

Want to see a Half Truth exposed in front of your eyes? In work we did for a healthcare marketer on chronic heartburn, women claimed that they avoided spicy foods. But when they arrived at the research venue, we put them to the test with a covert experiment. We offered a choice of bland turkey sandwich or lasagna with garlic bread. Guess which entre was decimated? (Proof that they were telling a Half Truth of Good Intentions!)

Want to learn more about Half and Whole Truths? This post is straight from our book, What She’s Not Telling You: Why Women Hide the Whole Truth and What Marketers Can Do About It. Read the first chapter online HERE, and grab a copy for yourself from Amazon.

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Whole Truth at Your Service

I am always on the alert for good and bad customer service and this holiday season is prime for detecting the Half Truths of retail.

Half Truth: I know what I’m looking for and don’t want to be pushed into buying something.

Whole Truth: I really want advice but am wary that I’ll be forced to buy more than I want if I ask for it.

Last week, a terrific associate named Trevor Dallier in the J.Crew store on lower Fifth Avenue in New York effortlessly balanced these Half and Whole Truths. I was looking for outfits for my college-age nieces. There were lots of great things on sale, but it was late, the checkout line was 15 people deep and I was feeling more stressed than creative about choosing the right cool combos.

Trevor to the rescue! His opener? “I’m a personal shopper here, can I help you put something together?” How did he choose me to help? Was it the way I was holding sweaters next to tees and pursing my lips? Was it the way I kept walking from one side of the store to the other, changing my mind from pink to black? Whatever my vibe, he picked it up. And he won my heart. He knew the merchandise and sizing tricks, had great fashion sense, mixed sale items with new ones, even added styling tips which I can pass on with the gifts. Best of all, he followed up the next day with an email, inviting me to special events, promotions and a phone relationship where he’ll snag and hold things that I want from the catalog if there are limited quantities.

This is the Whole Truth. A chain store can become a prized boutique when service exceeds expectations. A sales associate can add value and increase average order (sure beats the over-used strategy of price cutting to gain volume). The holiday shopping season which often stresses store personnel as much as their customers, can be a time to create new relationships for the new year. Simple…if only there were more Trevor’s out there.

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Another Take on the “Holiday” Hot Potato

A couple of weeks ago, Jen weighed in on the controversy around the new GAP holiday advertising, casting her Yea! in favor of its inclusive language. Today, I saw a new seasonal spot for Bloomingdale’s and I’d like to give them a shout out too.

Their line is “Happy, Merry, Peace, Love” which I love because it doesn’t default to the bland and to me, pretty meaningless Happy Holiday. Lately, even long weekends seem to merit, “Have a great holiday” draining the juice out of the word for good.

While calling out Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanza leaves folks out, I have to admit that every time I say “Happy Holiday”, I am telling a Half Truth. To me, the phrase excludes and erases any relevance for a time of year that means lots to lots of us, even it means nothing to some. With Bloomie’s clever and crowd-pleasing line, anyone can fill in their own blanks and find their own meaning. And if nothing else, on the day of awarding the Nobel Peace Prize, it’s hard to argue with “peace” and “love.”

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Pharmaceutical Speech: Physicians…Hear Thyself

Last night I spoke to about 200 leading marketers of a global pharmaceutical company and the subject was (you guessed it!) Half Truths and Whole Truths of healthcare.

A particularly interesting question from the audience was whether we believed that, just as female consumers hide the truth, do female doctors do it too? I have to say that most of our research is with patients not docs, and we’ve heard many women say that female doctors tend to be more personal and open with female patients. And areas like gynecology have seen an increase in the number of female physicians in response to this belief.

But when female doctors are the ‘subject’ of an interview, alongside male doctors, do they hide Whole Truths from the marketers who are trying to learn from them?

Tracy was in the audience and noted that she’d seen female doctors become more vocal and assertive when interviewed alongside their male peers. And so I wondered aloud from the stage, whether that was a result of the nature of what happens between women and men in varied professional settings.

I don’t know a woman alive who hasn’t had the experience of proposing an idea in a meeting and getting no response and then becoming irritated when two minutes later, a man offers the same idea and receives a round of high-five’s.

Do women eventually resort to playing Half Truth GAMES just to be heard? Women are women, whether they are doctors or patients. If a female doc or a patient feels the need to protect her ego by raising the volume, it may communicate more conviction than is true, when it’s really a defense measure against competitive egos. And if that’s so, are we really hearing the Whole Truth (or the one that wins in the male/female dynamic?)

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Advertising Age: Women’s Hidden Holiday Secrets

Our recent survey to more than 2,000 women revealed some pretty dramatic half truths and whole truths for today’s Advertising Age.

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Junior High DejaVu

In today’s email I received video footage  from a recent conference sponsored by Girls Inc regarding young women’s stress issues.  A panel featuring author Jessica Weiner, designer Dana Buchman, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide chair Shelly Lazarus, Glamour editor-in-chief Cindi Leive and health expert/radio host Dr. Jennifer Wider weighed in with answers to what stressed them out as young girls. Interestingly, nearly all harkened back to 7th grade where the compulsion to fit in was at its height.

“From a very young age, I wanted to be liked,” said Jessica Weiner, “to please, to have the perfect body, the perfect grades.” This desire to fit in is the hallmark of Approval Seeking, a behavior that sticks with women way past their youth. Funny enough, just an hour ago, I was interviewed by Kathleen Hays of The Hays Advantage on Bloomberg Radio and she said that our identified motivator of Approval Seeking reminded her of “junior high.” Exactly right, except that it sticks. But when consumers resort to it as a crutch for giving the ‘right answer’, and marketers succumb to believing it because it’s the answer that they want to hear, the result is a kind of double jeopardy.

Another interesting element of the piece related to the book, (Yes, “What She’s Not Telling You” our NEW BOOK which is out today…just click on the right and order now!) was their revelation of the origins of the Half Truth motivator: Ego Protection. Shelly Lazarus recalled that even though she was good at math, she underplayed it and went to after-school remedial classes to appear cool, as did Cindi Leive who purposely sabotaged a test to get a lower, ‘cooler’ score.

The reason that Half Truths are hard to break is that they are long held and deeply felt, often nurtured for good or bad, at an early age. Detecting them takes skills that can crack the code. (Yes, they’re in the book!)

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Facial HALF TRUTHS: Botox Bunnies and Parantheses Lines


Reading The New York Post on my train ride is sacred.  While I disagree with their politics, I live for their gossip and lifestyle coverage.  Today’s Pulse Section takes the cake.  They outed a tell tale sign of Botox and called them Bunny Lines.  Picture scrunching up your nose like a rabbit and that is what happens when your forehead is too paralyzed to move when you smile.  A plastic surgeon explains that “The muscles on either side of the nose become hyperactive with smiling to overcompensate for the lack of movement in the forehead and around the eyes.”  My other favorite half truth facial phenomenon is the Parantheses smile lines that Juvederm promises to solve. We aren’t even allowed to have a genuine smile.  I’m all about doing the best with what you’ve got (even if what you got is a great plastic surgeon or dermatologist) but I think it is a little creepy to be face to face with someone who looks airbrushed in person.

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Not to steal any thunder from our upcoming book release “What She’s Not Telling You” on November ,  but I had to point out this glaring example of consumers only telling marketers half of the story.  Basically a bunch of really smart (and definitely suspicious) medical researchers decided to see if the calorie count listings in fast food restaurants were making any impact on people’s choices at the counter.  When they asked people 9 out of 10 said they had made healthier choices as a result of seeing the whopping calories next to the food they usually would order.  Really?  Really, really?

“But when the researchers checked receipts afterward, they found that people had, in fact, ordered slightly more calories than the typical customer had before the labeling law went into effect, in July 2008.”

Did you catch that?  People said they did one thing but really did another! Shocking, right?

 I love this research because it really points out the half truths we tell ourselves to protect our egos and images.  We want to eat healthy on some level but supersizing it seems like such a better choice.  Or maybe I will just get a McDonald’s salad (and add FRIED chicken to the top). That’s healthy, right?

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April 13, 2024
by Mary Lou Quinlan

A look at an early production of WORK


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The God Box Goes Global!

“The God Box” has grown to include an app, audio book, philanthropic venture and solo show performed by Mary Lou across the US. Now The God Box Project goes global to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
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