Trust me, not Kathy

When I was in journalism school, I was shocked to learn that the advice columnist at the local newspaper was actually a chain-smoking, rumpled man, not the well-groomed woman in the photo.

Sure, I knew the people in the television commercials were actors, but somehow I thought that sort of thing wouldn’t sully a trusted newspaper, unless it was preceded by the word Advertising.

Today I suspect many rumpled people are writing blogs. Especially Kathy from Toronto, who is selling a teeth whitener that I mentioned in yesterday’s post. She’s a mom who just happened to come up with a magical combination that will make me like younger. As if.

Sounds like the same home-spun wisdom of Sarah Palin’s Joe the plumber, though the rumpled chain smokers behind Kathy should have realized that in Toronto we’re wise to unlicensed, tax-evading plumbers like Joe, unless our toilet is overflowing and he will fix it right away, cheap, for cash. Even so, we would never look to Joe for advice on anything beyond basic plumbing.

Neither would we buy Kathy’s secrets for looking young. Okay, maybe a few people would. But on the whole we’re pretty media savvy. Our kids even take media literacy in school. They would have not been shocked by the rumpled chain smoker in the newsroom.

In addition to being annoyed with how Kathy keeps showing up with those ugly teeth photos on Facebook, Bloglines and other sites, I am upset with how Kathy, if that’s really her name, is posing as a blogger.

Aren’t blogs supposed to be built on authenticity and trust?

In my last two posts, I discussed how writers have to appeal to hearts and brains if they want to persuade readers. But these tips will work only if people trust them.

At least I knew from all the TV coverage that Joe the plumber is real. Kathy, I suspect, is not. And I’m betting that her ads are appearing in other places too. But of course in Pittsburgh, she’s a mom from Pittsburgh. I wonder if they change her name for Shanghai.

Trust is not built by rumpled chain smokers masquerading as mommy bloggers. In fact, it’s an insult to us mothers to think we can be fooled so easily. We have years of experience in determining when our children are lying. It comes in handy.

Let me disclose that I am sometimes a ghost writer. But it’s not a fraud. I talk to people, usually on the telephone, and key what they say, shortening and tidying so it’s easier to understand or more compelling. But the writing is their thoughts and mostly their words. I don’t make them up. Which is why I can’t understand why so many people are against ghost-written blogs. Affiliate marketers, on the other hand, are walking a fine line between the authentic and the commercial…

But back to Kathy and the point I’m trying to make.

Unlike Kathy from Toronto, Ann Landers and Dear Abby were popular newspaper advice columnists for so many years because they not only offered honest, sensible advice, but also from the fact they were real. Twin sisters, actually. They weren’t persuading us to buy beauty secrets, but they were persuading us to read and trust their advice.

So, in addition to following the advice in my last two posts on touching hearts and brains, people writing to persuade need to understand the importance of building trust. That requires being a real person. And telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth all the time, as I tell my kids.