I've been seeing discussions about dishonest promotion recently (mostly sparked by what happened with Intentional Insights). I'm contributing the examples I have that show why we need to challenge the idea of using dishonest promotion. I also included where you can find quality information on how to do promotion in an ethical and effective way. You do not need to be dishonest to be effective at promotion, persuasion, or marketing, and I want to make sure everyone has quick access to good arguments and sources about why. I also want to make sure that ethical alternative methods are easy to find.
In case it seems like the choice is between being dishonest or weird, I'd like to add that there is no need to accept the "fate" of being dismissed as "too weird" when promoting unusual ideas and causes. There are both effective and ineffective ways to say something weird. I've seen a lot of discussions over time about this (for instance, discussions about ideas from Eliezer Yudkowsky). I disagree with the idea that ineffective weirdness is unavoidable. I think we can do better than accept "fate", and I'm sharing what I've read that convinced me of this.
Example one: when I was a sales person, I refused to mislead people. I was so good at giving accurate presentations, I won the quality award eight times in a row. At the same time, I sold enough that I made it into the top 25% of the sales team. A large part of the reason I was effective at sales is that people *trusted* me. People don't want to give you their payment details if they don't trust you.
Earning trust is a necessary part of doing sales work. You do this by treating people with respect. You demonstrate that you're committed to holding yourself to high standards and that you *want* to give them accurate information.
Notions like "You need dishonesty or you'll sacrifice effectiveness." just look like false dilemmas to me, and it's not just me:
Example two: the author Dale Carnegie did a huge project to collect all the information he could find on persuasion and test it. He wanted to find out what actually works to persuade people. What Dale concluded is that basically you need to really understand what people want in order to facilitate trading with them. His book became a bestseller and is still a popular go-to book eighty years later. The most effective strategy Dale found has nothing to do with lying. Instead, this requires skill with modeling people's minds and communication skills. You have to model people's minds correctly in order to understand what they want and also to communicate across inferential distances. Understanding what people want helps you relate to them and offer them something *they* value. If your idea seems weird, understanding how they think about things helps you find a way to explain your point of view so that *they* will relate to *you*.
It gets complicated to model people well, but the basic principle of understanding people to facilitate trading is simple and there's nothing inherently harmful about it.
Example three: I've read several books by Seth Godin, a very popular and well-regarded author, and I don't remember a single time when Seth advocated lying in the books of his I've read. Often, being popular and well regarded doesn't matter, but arguably, for a *marketing* author, these are mandatory signs of quality. If you think weirdness can't be marketed, read "The Purple Cow" where Seth recommends building your whole business around something weird, from the ground up, in order to do marketing *better*!
The Purple Cow by Seth Godin
This purple cow stuff is carefully done, of course. One does not simply go out and do something strange, expecting it to succeed for its strangeness alone. One does testing on each flavor and type of weird presentation to determine what works and what doesn't. Having weird ideas is *not* in your way. You can use the unique advantages of your weird ideas to do ethical and effective promotion. Weirdness definitely is not a reason to give up.
I have explained various weird things to people without it harming my reputation, and sometimes people like me better afterward.
Quality Information on Marketing and Persuasion: There is a successful person among us with a Goodreads book list which is relevant to you and you can read books about marketing and persuasion that he listed there. All my friends who know Matthew Fallshaw say he runs his business with a high level of integrity. Friends who work for him tell me stuff like how impressive it is that Matt actually cares about stuff like potential privacy issues that could arise and will actually have them prevented! Matt is a successful business executive who also gives to support effective altruism and practices rationality, so it is fairly probable that if Matt likes a book related to business, the book is useful. Because he's one of us, it's also probable that you will find the books on his list likeable. Now you know where to find good how-to books for this.
Matt Fallshaw's Book List (shared with permission).
My Point: These myths will set you up for failure if you believe them, and they encourage mediocrity in other effective altruists rather than integrity and ambition. To those of us who have relevant experience, these are obvious uninformed opinions. Spreading myths and advocating for dubious practices makes us all look bad. When people are alarmed at low integrity practices, they often paint everyone affiliated with the same brush. This is called stereotyping bias, and it's a common human reaction. A lot of us don't want anyone taking the risk of giving EA a reputation for being affiliated with liars and weirdos. Those of us who are willing to educate ourselves about marketing and persuasion shouldn't have to tolerate the damaging effects of other people's uninformed opinions.
How this can be solved: If I encounter a leader advocating for dubious promotion practices or spreading myths, I will ask them if they can list at least three qualified professionals they hired who all failed to get results and who actually gave reasons for failure like "insufficient dishonesty". If I encounter someone else spreading promotion myths, I will ask them whether they have read at least five books on marketing, persuasion or similar. You can challenge dubious claims the same way: by asking whether the person did their homework.