The Vital Importance of Being Earnest in Business Dealings (and at Trade Shows)

Have you read Oscar Wilde’s famous play, “The Importance of Being Earnest”? Don’t fret if you haven’t; I’m not going to assign an essay or anything. [Insert your sigh of relief here]. For those of you who haven’t read the play, here’s the basic gist of the story: a man called Ernest leads a double life as a “man-about-town” in the city and as an upstanding citizen/good role model in the country, which inspires his best friend Algernon to do the same in order to better woo the lovely lady who’s caught his fancy. In short, misunderstandings occur because of their lies and at the end of the play both men discover that their aliases and dishonesty have actually hindered them more than benefited them. At the close, one of the men comments that he has “now realized for the first time in [his] life the vital importance of being earnest.”

Why am I talking about a late-nineteenth-century play in a promotional products blog? Well, because rereading the play gave me some serious food for thought. Why can’t the message of Wilde’s play also apply outside of the literary realm over a century later? Couldn’t it be applied to business ethics and everyday life? And even more specifically, why shouldn’t it apply to your trade show demeanor?

What it means to be earnest:

“Earnest” is defined as “a serious and intent mental state (a proposal made in earnest).” In other words, being earnest entails sincerity and seriousness.

What being earnest will provide to you in business:

Besides having a clear conscience, being an earnest businessperson provides you with ample opportunities. Customers are far more likely to do repeated business with you when you’re sincere and genuine in your business dealings. How much good would it do your company to lie just to make a quick buck? Even though this SHOULD go without saying, I’ll say it anyway: honesty and fairness would be endlessly beneficial to your business in the long-term because you’d build trust and customers would keep coming back.

Why you should realize the vital importance of being earnest when you represent your company at trade shows:

Nobody likes liars, and that includes trade show attendees! I’ve been tricked at trade shows on numerous occasions and I immediately shut off contact with that vendor after I find out. For example, one company swore up and down that they wouldn’t sell my email address to third parties, so I signed up for more information about their services. Two months later, my inbox was completely full of nonsense emails and spammy links. Since they were the only ones I’d given that particular email address to, I knew it was them. When I confronted them, they then “came clean” and said they actually DO give customer emails out. What a bunch of con artists! Why should I do business with someone who can’t give me honest answers or maintain a serious attitude when it comes to my personal information?

The concept of being an earnest trade show vendor is quite simple; never mislead people, lie to them, or otherwise deceive them in an attempt to get their attention or to make a quick sale. Don’t spam your potential customers’ email accounts with updates if you assured them you wouldn’t. Don’t lie about exclusive deals or specials and then refuse to honor them later.

It really is that simple!

I realize that I’ve brutally oversimplified the plot of “The Importance of Being Earnest” and that there are many moral paradoxes associated with its theme that I haven’t touched upon, but I’m not trying to write a college paper…I’m trying to draw a thought-provoking parallel between one of my favorite pieces of literature and the discipline of promotional advertising!

What are your thoughts on this blog post? Have you ever been deceived at trade shows or while doing business in general? Do you have an example of trade show earnestness that you’d like to share? Or perhaps you’re a bookworm like me and you have something to say about Oscar Wilde’s play? Leave me a comment and we’ll mix business with pleasure: trade show ethics and literature!

Thanks for reading the Quality Logo Products blog, and know that you can count on us to understand the importance of earnestness in business dealings.

Image Credits

Jill Tooley

Jill has been obsessed with words since her fingers could turn the pages of a book. She’s a hopeless bibliophile who recently purchased a Kindle after almost 6 years of radical opposition, and she loves stumbling upon new music on Pandora. Random interests include (but are not limited to) bookstores, movie memorabilia, and adorable rodents. Jill writes for the QLP blog and assists with the company’s social media accounts. You can connect with Jill on Google+.


  1. QLP Kid

    Jill, I could not agree with you more. Even though by being deceitful you might make more $$$ in the short term but you will almost certainly not get the return buyers you might have. While being honest might not make as many sales NOW the sales you do make will be much more likely to come back!


    Rock on!

  2. Kat

    I’m a huge literature/film buff. Although I hate the act of reading itself, I LOVE the final message in the end. And when there’s a lesson to be learned (and better yet, when it’s not as obvious and you have to figure it out yourself) it’s even better! My favorite author is Nicholas Sparks (you may have seen the movies: “A Walk to Remember”, “The Notebook”, “Nights in Rodanthe” & “Dear John”). Every story of his is captivating and there’s always lessons to be learned. Most of the time about love, but when there’s a lesson it doesn’t matter what genre. I’m a firm believer in being completely honest…because lying will get you nowhere! And when you are dealing with other’s finances you most definitely should be up front and honest! I totally agree with honesty first, because they’ll come back to YOU in the end. This works WONDERS in the promotional products business, because your main goal is to make the customer happy, comfortable and wanting more of your services and products! Great post!! 🙂

  3. Scooby DOO!

    Earnest, honest, and hardworking… Three invaluable traits a LONG term successful sales person must embody.

    Jill- What other plays have you been reading?! Lets do a post about good old Willy Loman!

    • QLP Jill

      @QLP Kid and Kat – Thank you! I’m glad you got something out of this blog post. I can’t stress the importance of sincerity enough in business…especially in the promo products industry. And I’ve never read any Nicholas Sparks, but I did see the first two movies you mentioned! 🙂

      @Scooby – I LOVE “Death of a Salesman,” although reading it always depresses me. But who knows, maybe it’ll be in my queue for an upcoming post! 😉

  4. skelly

    Great post Jill! Honesty goes a long way. It not only gains respect from your customers but also make for long term relationships and loyal followers of your brand.

  5. D-Rok

    I once signed up for a site that APPEARED to be SEO related, and even emphasized that it only costs a $2.99 processing fee (I should have known) to sign up for the site. After paying $2.99 to sign up, I noticed the content went from informative to sounding more like a sales pitch. That’s when I got a bit upset. I looked them up on Rip Off Report, and read comments from people saying that, hidden behind a link that’s typed in small print at the bottom of the disclosure agreement, there is a small bit of text explaining that $50.00 will be automatically withdrawn from your checking account every month if your $2.99 account isn’t canceled within FIVE DAYS.

    Needless to say, I was quite glad that I became suspicious and looked into it. And yes, I called them… and yes, I talked to multiple people… and yes, I told every one of them that they should be ashamed of themselves for being downright con-artists for a living.

    If you don’t have a product or service people want to pay for, don’t con them into paying for it. Do they realize that by hiding that $50.00 monthly fee, they’re taking people for $600.00 a year (more than a lot of people pay for their car insurance)? Do they realize that people’s checking accounts are likely being overdrawn? What a bunch of low-life scum. I hope they go bankrupt and lose everything.

  6. Kat

    I had to study “Death of a Salesman” for a theatre class in college. I could probably use a refresher on it, but I remember it having a powerful message!

  7. Bret Bonnet

    I can’t say that I’ve read or even heard of ANY of the authors mentioned in this post, but one thing I can most certainly say is…

    When I started in this industry almost 12 years ago, “Being Earnest” was a given. It was everywhere. It was a GREAT industry to be in. Competition was constructive, representatives were professional and carrying; it was an all around good time. Fast forward 12 years and the act of “Being Earnest” has almost completely disappeared. There are still a few select suppliers and representatives out there that still practice this principle, but it’s few and far between.

    I don’t know if it’s capitalism at it’s best, but just as “Being Earnest” has fallen off the face of the planet so has business ethics. There is no such thing as “Do No Evil” anymore… It’s only “please stock holders” by making a quick buck or two.

    Finally, not to get to empirical or anything with this rant, but if consumers would stop putting up with this kind of crap there wouldn’t be room for these types of businesses to exist. Instead, just Americans no longer care to take the 50 seconds to cast their vote for our nation’s president (only 50% turned out to polls this past election, really – come on people!, look what we ended up with because YOU decided to NOT vote!), people no longer bother to look for quality alternatives and continue to sink their money into companies that have no intention of living up to their promises all just to save a buck or two.

    I know this might sound weird, but YELP! gives me hope (though it has a LONG way to go in terms of filtering fake/false reviews).

  8. QLP Kid

    I completely agree with you and like you Yelp gives me hope. In addition to Yelp, other sites such as Superpages is doing a great job as well. I feel as fast as we are headed in the wrong direction people are starting to see this and are taking action. This makes me wonder that maybe it took our current president illustrating our lack of quality to snap people back to reality and to encourage them to take action.

    • QLP Jill

      How did these comments turn into a political rant? You’re both entitled to your opinions, but I disagree with you on that. As far as the BUSINESS side of things goes, I do agree that many companies have gotten greedy but that’s only because they’ve managed to get away with it for so long…why would they bother to change now? This is a prime example of how I “do business” these days; if a company can’t take the time to be straight with me and treat me with respect, then I’ll find someone who can.

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