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Should You “Fake It ‘Til You Make It”?
TL;DR No Karen, You Shouldn’t. 5-minute Read
Have you ever heard that phrase? It’s the evil mustachioed twin-sister of dress for the job you want, not the job you have, which is a form of healthy positive psychology.
The former phrase means: pretend to be the thing until you become that thing. Fake it ‘til you make it (FITYMI for short) encourages people to stretch the truth in the pursuit of success; a practice marketers have never heard of, amiright you guys?
FITYMI is a hustle culture slogan, but its roots are as deep as dirt; roots that penetrated marketing thousands of years ago. Unfortunately, whatever took out the dinosaurs forgot to crush FITYMI.
But for a fair shake, let’s see whether this practice is ever worth pursuing.
Last week, I found myself debating the merits of FITYMI with a mentee. It got so heated that an unspoken chasm tore through our dialog, forming a bridge-less molten hot divide between me and the voice on the other end.
On one side my mentee, willing to fake it until she made it. On the other side me, a self-proclaimed moral absolutist. I recommended she remove language from her website that implied a level of success her business had yet to achieve.
She countered with the assertion that pretending to be bigger than she was had opened several closed doors. And I sat there, listened, and calmly questioned everything I stood for.
On the one hand, gaining access to opportunity is a positive. And fulfilling any obligations resulting from said opportunities brings you one step closer to ‘making it,’ and thus strengthening the value of the approach.
But on the other, getting caught harms your reputation, can cause irreparable damage, and leaves every victory tainted with a stain you can never wash off.
So… who’s right? Should she fake it ‘til she makes it? Should you?
Before we can answer that, let’s get to the root of this philosophy and what faking it really means.
How We Got Here
Over time, we soften the language we use to describe formerly-problematic behaviors.
As society becomes more comfortable with an idea, it innovates new language to represent that idea without stirring up the negative feelings associated with the previous terms.
‘Pirating’ became ‘downloading,’ ‘communism’ became ‘wealth redistribution,’ and ‘illegal immigrant’ became ‘undocumented citizen.’ In the case of our subject, lying became fake it ‘til you make it.
And that lingual evolution is why I debated my mentee on the merits of FITYMI without once citing the moral dilemma baked right in.
Society pulled faking yourself and your business out of the slushy chum bucket of unethical behaviors, rinsed it off, slapped it on the ass and told it to ”go get ‘em, tiger!”
FITYMI is presently not a question of right or wrong, but a question of right or wrong strategy.
Tearing Those A-Holes Anew
The argument I hear for FITYMI is the simplest: it works! To that I say, no shit! But why does it work?
It works by the exact same mechanism as lying, because good morning, it is lying — don’t believe me? Let’s spell it out.
Faking it involves you telling someone something that engenders a false impression of you or your products. That false impression works because people tend to believe the things they read, hear, and see.
As a consequence, those people give you the benefit of the doubt, and you gain the upper hand. In short: the textbook definition of lying.
Lying is nothing new; it’s a practice as old as language itself and a favorite among 7-year-olds trying to get out of brushing their sugar-coated candy mashers. And by the way, pretty much every society punishes liars.
Yet we grease the wheels on lying professionally by putting distance between us and the megaphone from which we speak. When we’re marketing our business or the organization we help operate, the ends suddenly justify the means.
However, the people we fool with lies remain the victims of lies, regardless of how ‘okay’ we felt feeding them false information.
Buying the Truth, Selling a Lie
This is the part that where I slap some sense into anyone still hanging onto the FITYMI concept.
Imagine we’re going to Target to buy a snack. As we peruse the snack aisle, consider our options, and stuff that drum of peanut-butter pretzels between a coffee machine, two yoga mats, and a dozen seasonal rejects from the dollar section, we trust the information printed on the packaging — do we not?
As consumers, we give the benefit of the doubt to the labels of products whose marketers we have never met. And we trust the information provided by industries in which we have limited experience.
We rely on this data because that is what we have available when making our decision, and we are inclined to believe what is printed.
Yet as marketers we swivel our chairs, reveal the hairless cat in our laps, and snicker maniacally as we stretch the truth to sell more products. Fun-fact: that's called hypocrisy! We buy the truth, but sell the lie.
At what point will we realize that we do not have it both ways? There is zero chance that our industry and our product category is the only one that misrepresents itself. Fakers live in every corner, yet we pretend they don’t exist — we prefer to buy the truth.
So if we refuse to accept lies from the brands we transact with, how can we possibly tolerate spreading lies to sell? By doing so, we become the brands we would never do business with.
That’s pretty f*cked.
I can’t believe I have to write this out loud, because it’s grade-school morality, everyone should already know it — yet, here we go.
After we fool people with our cunning ruse, we need them to remain honest.
We want the benefits they offer us to be one-hundred percent real, don’t we? The cross-promotional deal, the publicity, the donation, we want all of those things to manifest.
It should be patently obvious to us that if everyone drank our FITYMI Kool-aid, we could trust no one and commerce would grind to a halt.
FITYMI, therefore, is a morally-corrupt strategy that works only in the presence of willing victims. Anyone practicing it cannot hide from this forever — they operate on bullshit hoping no one catches a whiff.
Next week, we’re going to look at how ethical marketers (not an oxymoron) can promote their brands, products, and services without an ounce of fakery. Yes, it’s possible. See you on the other side.