Particularly in the political and business arenas, there are times when a person's public words fail to match their private positions on an issue. Whenever a public official or company spokesman issues a public statement expressing full support for a particular issue, such as anti-discrimination legislation, and privately continues to practice discriminatory hiring, he or she could be said to be paying lip service to the issue at hand.
Lip service is a disingenuous or surface-level attempt to gain public favor by appearing to take a popular stance, yet making little effort to actually adopt or implement that position in private. A company spokesman may promise to investigate allegations of fraud or embezzlement during a press conference, for example, but no such investigation ever takes place. The spokesperson was simply paying lip service to the idea of fair business practices.
Using this practice in relation to a controversial issue or the needs of a specific subgroup of citizens is also a popular gimmick among politicians courting voters. When surrounded by a group of farmers, a politician may promise to enact tax breaks for the working class. When in the company of wealthy business owners, the same politician may promise similar tax breaks for businesses. In both cases, the politician is merely paying lip service in order to appear both pro-business and pro-working class.
When a person is caught paying lip service, many people become disillusioned by his or her apparent hypocrisy. Employees who believed their boss' speech promising substantial raises can become disgruntled whenever those promised raises fail to materialize. The realization that a trusted official or authority figure has resorted to duplicitous actions can be a very painful pill to swallow for some. Others may take a much more cynical view on any future promises or commitments made by that official or employer.
Lip service can also be equated with the concepts of "blowing smoke up one's butt" or "promising the moon." These are all variations on making public promises one never intended to fulfill privately. Some view this practice as more of a kissing-up process, in which the speaker wants to impress a higher authority with his or her public generosity or social awareness while still maintaining his or her private and contrary position on those same issues.