Pez Dispensers and Living the Big Lie

As a follow-up to my last post, I thought it might help to revisit this excerpt from Viral Copy:

During eBay’s rapid rise, the company nurtured a quaint rumor about its origins, claiming that founder Pierre Omidyar had created the site in 1995 so that his fiancee could trade Pez candy dispensers with other collectors.

Alas, the Pez myth, it was later revealed, had been fabricated by eBay’s public-relations director in 1997 to generate buzz about the site. Source: Anecdotage

It’s up to you whether your story is a complete fabrication. I tend to lean aggressively toward complete honesty, delivered in a creative fashion. Ethics aside, the blogosphere will call you out at the first opportunity. And it won’t be pretty.

No matter what, you must have a story that people want to hear, and then you’ve got to live that story. In that regard, eBay CEO Meg Whitman was often photographed with Pez collections and had more than 100 dispensers displayed in the lobby at eBay headquarters, despite the fact that the company origin was a fairy tale.

Now, the eBay origin story may seem like only a little white lie, but it’s actually a big lie. Whether it be science, religion, comic books or companies, origin stories are hugely important, and that crafty PR director knew it.

Because the lie was big, and because eBay lived the lie, it worked.

Lying is easy, it‘s living the lie that’s hard. And that’s why some people are shocked when their clever viral marketing scheme turns ugly.

They end up revealing that the story is not true, and that blows it. The audience doesn’t really want the curtain to be pulled back on the story that enchanted them in the first place, and they’ll punish you for doing it.

On the other hand, telling an authentic story can be hard. Even when things like Texas native pecans are right there for anyone to see, or the water and brewing techniques performed by beer companies are taken for granted, it just seems easier to make something up rather than recognize a powerful, simple, compelling story.

So, if you’re going to lie, lie big.

And stick to it.

Here’s a guy who can help you with that:

All this was inspired by the principle – which is quite true in itself – that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.

Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf, 1925

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Reader Comments (18)

  1. says

    I think that it is more about the quality of the lie than the size that makes it effective. With eBay the “real” story is boring so the there is no incentive to drop the lie and go back to it. The lie was so good [believable, interesting, entertaining] it replaced reality.

    With JonBenet the incentive is to find out “what really happened” so whats-his-face’s lie will be quickly forgotten.

  2. says

    Don’t do it, Robert (if that in fact is your real name…) :)

    Jon, I guess one would have to be a true bonehead to both lie and manage to tell a low-quality story in the process. :)

  3. says

    I’m incredibly lazy. It’s just so much easier to be honest and transparent. Have fun with the truth? Sure, why not. But unadorned truthfulness — as opposed to truthiness, a wonderful weasel word if there ever was one — means one less lie to spin, one less headache to medicate.

  4. says

    The big lie has worked for eBay, Nigerian Scammers, Hitler, and every successful religion the world has ever had – and it can work for you too!

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  5. says

    I’m a loyal reader and an admirer of your powerful writing. But using Mein Kampf to reinforce your point? That’s hard to take, no matter how apropos.

  6. says

    Hi Asha, sorry if that went a bit too far.

    Too many people are too casual with the truth when it comes to marketing.

    I thought pointing out the genesis of a certain line of thinking might make it easier to realize that authentic really is the way to go.

    Didn’t mean to offend. :)

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