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Friday Philosophy – Criticism is Critical for Believable Endorsement March 2, 2018

Posted by mwidlake in ethics, Friday Philosophy, Perceptions.
Tags: , ,

If you had a friend who always told you that your were the best, that you had no faults, and that everything you did was great – would you trust them? I know I would not. I am fully aware that I am not perfect(*). I used to see this sometimes in relationships too, especially when I was younger. One of them would be so desperate for their boyfriend/girlfriend to like them that they would never criticise the light of their life. The relationship never lasted as it was, well, creepy and false.

Perfect In Absolutely Every Way

For your opinion of someone to be seen as honest, there has to be space for criticism. I love my wife very much, but she’s crap at loading the dishwasher. Joking aside, I believe my wife when she says she likes some aspect of my character as she will tell me about the ones she does not like. Thankfully, not at length.

In exactly the same way, for your opinion on a technology or application to be accepted as honest & worthwhile, there has to be space for criticism. I’m not saying that there has to be some criticism within any given endorsement of a product, I’m saying you need to be confident that the person would mention any faults or drawback they are aware of for you to believe that endorsement. I’m really hoping you are all agreeing with me on this!

So why do Marketing departments so often not get this? What is so fundamentally broken – OK, let’s be nice and say different – about their view of the world that any criticism is not acceptable? I just don’t understand either their belief that their product is perfect or that people will be fooled by an uncritical opinion of that product.

I can see how this would work in social media reviews like TripAdviser though. I recently did reviews of several places I had visited and a couple of companies then contacted me to ask me to remove the bits where I had said anything negative. They fundamentally wanted me to lie for them, or at least implicitly (and complicitly) give a better review by omission. I don’t take it well when I am asked to lie. In this case of social media I can see how “cleaning up” the reviews might help as most people look at the sum of all reviews and not at the reviewers.

But when you are actually a known person giving a review or endorsement, your reputation is critical to how the review is perceived.

What triggered this post was I recently discovered a friend of mine had been asked by a marketing person to remove some negative things they had said. They refused and made the point I have just made – if they were to be seen as believable when they said something else that the company produced was great, they had to be seen to be honest in criticising anything that was less-than-perfect. And let’s all be grown up about this, I’d say no software or application is perfect! However, the marketing person found this concept alien to them.

I wonder if people who work in marketing departments have difficulty maintaining long-term relationships? Based on my experience, quite a few of them are willing to ask you to lie for them and they don’t understand honesty is core to trust. Or am I just being very, very naive?

For me to trust the opinion of someone commenting on software & applications, in fact on anything really, I want to see some proof of their integrity by them being critical as well as complementary. If it is all positive, I will assume that their opinion is bought in some way or they are not particularly discerning. So Marketing People asking for negative comments to be removed? You are doing your employer a disservice. Please keep that in mind.

(*)I’m not perfect – but sometimes I’m so close it hurts. My wife got me a T-shirt with this on, so it must be true… Or she was being sarcastic?


1. stewashton - March 2, 2018

Hm, what can I say bad about this post so you will believe I honestly like it?

As an enthusiastic presenter of Oracle database technology, I feel duty bound to look for and point out caveats, or things to watch out for. These are not criticisms per se, but rather usage guidelines for practitioners.

A funny thing about marketing folks who oppose criticism or don’t admit imperfections: when a new version of their product comes out, they become the most outspoken critics of the “perfect” version they were selling moments ago. When I was with IBM decades ago, our competition always seemed to be version N – 1…

Best regards and keep warm, Stew

2. jgarry - March 2, 2018

In this social mediajusted world, haters gonna hate. Anyone doing marketing in that space has to deal with that, including from their competitors. Your criticism of criticism is spot-on. Where it breaks down is in assuming the primacy of logic. That may seem odd when the context is presumably logical techies evaluating tech and apps, but that context is thrown out by the goals and precepts of marketing. Ironically, it makes the organizations that “do it right” from our perspective the contrarian underdogs.

All we can do is point it out and try to lead by example, but be prepared for the reality; It’s Quixotic

mwidlake - March 2, 2018

One of my favourite XKCDs πŸ™‚

3. oraclebase - March 3, 2018

Criticism of companies on social media just causes them to give a saccharine response. I used to think it could make a difference, but I’m starting to see from a company perspective it is about being seen to do the right thing, not actually doing the right thing.

Criticism of individuals is harder because you never know the head-space they are in when then receive the criticism. I’ve gone to war over seemingly minor criticism because I’ve been in a bad place at the time. I’ve laughed off very harsh criticism when I’ve been in a good place. Don’t even get me started on the language barrier, which can sometimes make a helpful comment sound like a character assassination. πŸ™‚

I keep trying to ask myself, why are you making this comment? Does it come from a genuine desire to help, or is it because of anger, jealousy or some type of virtue signalling? Unfortunately I usually ask myself that a few days after I’ve hit return. πŸ™‚



mwidlake - March 3, 2018

Criticism of a person or their actions is of course different to criticism of a product or service (unless it is the specific server you are lambasting). But on the topic of personal criticism…

I’ve never been good at taking criticism, I think it stems from my experiences at school – but as I get older I’m slowly teaching myself to think more like you suggest. i.e. first ask “Is this really criticism?” second “Is this criticism justified?” and thirdly “Why is this person criticising?”. The more I analyse the criticism I receive the more I learn from it.

And finally, of course, I track them down and do bad things to them…

4. bob - March 12, 2018

I think this stems more from how we use the review systems. Be honest when we go to amazon, trip advisor etc. which reviews do we read?
We look at the 5’s and the 1’s. – If a flaw is highlighted in one of these it’s more likely gain more traction than an unread one (scores 2-4).

Would you trust a review that was 5 stars that said ‘it’s great however I didn’t like x y z’, or would you think the rating is a bit dishonest and therefore worthy of a 4 (or lower) since it’s not ‘perfect’ and therefore shouldn’t warrant the highest score?

This goes further when you ‘filter results by average score’ and these 5’s (which should perhaps be 4’s) make all the difference in terms of visibility.

No company is going to admit their shortcomings or failures as they want to maximise their profit and this is, in effect, highlighting an area that can be exploited come negotiation. Companies will generally, at least internally, be aware of these *bugs*, however have their ‘top guys’ prioritising *bugs* once a contract has been signed or have specific promises to fulfil (to secure said contract).

Imagine if Dyson came out and said ‘we work great on carpets and laminate but hardwood results in reduced performance.’ You know, almost immediately, a rival would come out saying ‘we work great on carpers, laminate AND hardwood’ – even if it’s a worse product and a barefaced lie, the seed has been planted and Dyson have ended up shooting themselves in the foot.

mwidlake - March 12, 2018

I guess I’m wired a bit different to many then, but I’d go for Dyson if he was being that honest! I wish he’d be a bit more up-front about their reliability being shocking but they send you replacement parts really quickly and with no fuss πŸ™‚
Thank you for the comments.

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