Harvard-VeritasVeritas is truth, but vérité, as in cinéma vérité, is (at least as I’ve conceived it) the style of presentation that helps convey the notion of truthfulness.

In other words, if truth alone isn’t enough to convince people — and it demonstrably is not — then the question becomes: what can legitimately be added to the truth to make it convincing? And my answer is vérité.

So what IS vérité?

Let me give you a few examples:

Example 1

I have a partner who tells me that you have to evaluate testimonials the same way you evaluate copy, which is to say that words which wouldn’t make convincing copy don’t suddenly become convincing simply because they leave the mouth of a customer. Either they’re convincing or not, and the fact that they’re the “testimony” of another has little to no impact.

I disagree. At least in terms of radio and TV testimonials, where I think vérité enters into it. Case in point, this video produced by legendary ad man, Tony Schwartz:

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Frankly, the bare words this lady says would make for rather dismal ad copy, and yet, she’s powerfully persuasive on film. So what accounts for her persuasive power? I think it has a lot to do with vérité. Her unique “voice” creates credibility in and of itself.

Example 2

This recent Microsoft Ad does largely the same thing, leveraging the “voice” of Siri to create added credibility and emotional reality for the bare facts that are presented:

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The use of Siri’s voice really drives home the comparison in a way that the comparison alone couldn’t have achieved, right?

Example 3

testWhen nurses are given their patient comments for review, in terms of measuring patient satisfaction through a survey tool like Press Ganey, it turns out that they are much more likely to “accept” the validity of the comments and to take action on them if they are given not only the typed out and redacted comments, but actual, scanned copies of the hand written comments themselves.

For some reason, seeing the actual scrawled-out handwriting of the patients made the comments real to the nurses in a way that the sterilized and redacted comments couldn’t. In other words, that added bit of vérité made all the difference.

Example 4

Cialdini (of Influence fame) reports on a persuasion test around re-using hotel towels. Merely telling hotel guests that the reuse of their towels will save water and resources (i.e., the truth) isn’t enough. But telling them that most other hotel guests WAS enough to convince most hotel guests to follow suit. But what really got the best results wasn’t just that most hotel guests saw the light, but that most hotel guests that stayed in that exact room had elected to re-use their towels.

In my mind, mentioning the fact that the previous guests (who had opted to reuse their towels) had stayed in the exact same room as the test subjects provided a level of reality hook or vérité to make the social proof just that much more persuasive.

Example 5

I owe this example to Kathleen Jaimeson, of the University of Texas, who pointed out the following element of vérité in Tony Schwartz’s legendary “Daisy” ad. When Daisy counts up to ten, she doesn’t do so perfectly, instead, she stumbles over the number 6 only to then go back from seven to count six twice — in exactly the way that little kids often do. This little-kid mess-up gave the ad just enough vérité to drive home the nuclear threat. You can watch the entire ad for yourself here:

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I wish I had a grand conclusion for you, but… the only thing I can say is this: if you’re not searching for elements of vérité for your ads, you’re sort of missing out on a grand opportunity. And since vérité can come in many forms — that of a telling detail, a reality hook, or a tone of voice — it’s well worth hunting down and using whatever elements of vérité you can get your hands on.

Because vérité is just as important as veritas. And advertisers forget that at their peril.






  1. Anthony Dina on 07.23.2013

    Well said Mr. Sexton! And very much in line with the Pendulum swing towards the WE. If the people crave transparency and authenticity, Verite is the missing ingredient.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Jeff on 07.24.2013

    Thanks, Anthony!