Million dollar lies

In their haste to not miss the boat, people fail to check if the boat is broken

Going downhill

The year was 2018. As the world searched for a sustainable fuel solution, one company announced that they’d cracked the code to run heavy trucks with hydrogen fuel. The trucking industry was estimated to be worth a trillion dollars, and this hydrogen fuel technology would be its next generation. The company’s founder shared a video of a lorry driving along a desert highway. The truck was in motion and the doubters came to a standstill. Investors started pouring money in. Why won’t wouldn’t they? The next big thing was here, now, unveiling right in front of their eyes.

No one wants to miss the boat.

At one point, this company was valued at $34 billion, even higher than the valuation of Ford. Ford sells thousands of trucks each year. How many trucks had this company sold? Zero. Soon the bubble burst. They never had any such technology. The company stock started plummeting.

But how could this happen? What about the ad, where we all saw the truck in motion? It turns out that Nikola, the company in question, took the truck uphill and rolled it downhill. When confronted about the video’s legitimacy, Nikola said they never stated its truck was driving under its own propulsion. Nikola One may have been in motion, but its absent hydrogen fuel cell wasn’t the reason why. So much for clarity and transparency.

Vanished into thin air

Let me tell you another story. This fintech startup was a godsend for students. Aimed to improve the loan application for young Americans, it promised to save hours and hours of their time. No hefty paperwork. Everything, completely free. Soon its popularity grew and in no time, the company had four million customers. Big players like J.P. Morgan took note.

J.P. Morgan wanted to acquire young customers early to retain them for life — and four million potential leads was too good an opportunity to ignore. They did their due diligence and acquired the startup for $175 million. Thrilled by the acquisition, J.P. Morgan’s marketing team started efforts to reach out to these customers and sent 400,000 batch emails. They immediately noticed something was wrong. A lot more emails were bouncing — 70%, to be precise. Marketing campaign results were worse than they’d ever seen. Eventually, they discovered that more than 90% of the four million customers sold to them by financial-aid startup Frank were fake.

In the following complaint filed, J.P Morgan alleged that Frank founder, Charlie Javice, approached a data science professor to create 4.25 million fake customer accounts. Only 300,000 of Frank’s accounts belonged to real people. The lawsuit also alleged that Frank’s Chief Growth Officer bought a separate data set of 4.5 million students from a marketing firm to fill out the missing numbers.

This bubble had not only burst — it vanished in thin air, just like Frank’s fabricated customers.

Even the experts can be fooled by a lie

These companies had all the resources at their hand but still could not spot the lie. They were blinded by greed and envy. In a hurry to not miss the boat, they failed to thoroughly check if the boat was broken.

Our personal lives are no different. We are lied to every day. The perfect sun-kissed selfie of your favourite influencer, the college friend partying every day like it’s Friday. The cute couple at another lavish dinner date every weekend. Now they’re living life to the fullest, we think. My life is so boring compared to them. Self-doubt starts to creep in. But what is shown on social media is only the pretty parts of life.

How many influencers would talk on Instagram Live about their income struggles? That college friend just slogged 18 hours at the office unpaid before heading to the party. The couple who seem to have it all are just desperately trying to catch up with their richer friends. And now thanks to Generative AI tools like Midjourney, everyone can create false, fantastic lives sitting on their couch at home. One click, chilling in Dubai. Another click, dining at a 5-star hotel.

Not everything is in our hands. We can’t stop others from lying.

But if you feel peace in your life is precious (more precious than even millions of dollars) then whenever you feel greed or envy making you want to lie, you should remember this quote:

A lie may take care of present, but it has no future

Croft Pentz

Featured image: Ernesto Leon / Unsplash

Rahulsing Rajput, Brand Strategy and Narratives Lead, Fidelity Investments

I talk about Ads and Creativity. Sharing one interesting Ad daily for curious creative minds. Over 180 Ads shared and counting. Favourite quote — 'Creativity is Intelligence having fun' — Albert Einstein

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