Marketing by Deception Threedux

I’ve written about the auto dealer “You’ve Won a Prize” scam before. Today I happened to be driving past Rockland Ford in Thomaston, Maine with one of their flyers in my hand, and since a $5.00 WalMart gift card is better than a sharp stick in the eye if I’m in the area anyway, I dropped in.

ford

(Click image for a larger view)

The flyer states pretty plainly that I’ve won a “car, hotel and gas card.” But as usual, the large print giveth, and the small print taketh away:

The number  that you matched does not give you a choice, but an opportunity to win a prize.

If you’re not sure, this means “the number you scratched off means nothing at all.” The only number that means anything is the one after “official registered #”, which in my case is 129,280. Odds of winning the WalMart gift card are 499,994:499,999, meaning that’s what you’ll get. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s the $500.00 one. It isn’t.

The salesman I spoke to insisted that the advert wasn’t deceptive at all, and I should just read the fine print. Well, I’ve lived long enough to know that bait-and-switch is a scummy tactic, and is usually covered up with the most barely-legal douchebaggery the attorneys can dig up.

Yes, as long as the “final deal” is spelled out somewhere, they can claim that customers had access to all aspects of the promotion and it’s legal. But I ask you: how many people walk away from the encounter disappointed and with a sour taste in their mouth about the dealership? How likely are they to want to buy a car from a dealer that uses such tactics to get people in the door? People who run these enterprises ought to give that a thought.

But they won’t.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Another piece of music, ruined for life

As I have written before, advertising can be insidious. I can’t listen to the 1812 Overture without thinking of Quaker Puffed Rice.

Recently while listening to a medley of American marches on my headphones at work, it occurred to me that National Emblem by Edwin Eugene Bagley will forever call up in my mind a defunct auto dealership in Salt Lake City, Zion Motors Inc.

zion motors

At 59 seconds in, I can’t help but sing along,

🎶 Just remember we don’t monkey ’round at Zion,
It’s the greatest
Deal you’ve ever seen
Just take the short drive out to Murray, at Zion Motors
And see what we mean! 🎶

Whoever came up with that jingle should get a medal. Or be shot. I haven’t decided which.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

What’s in a Logo?

Companies spend large money developing a logo that speaks to the world. They are an integral part of brand recognition – who in the world doesn’t recognize the Coca Cola logo, even if they don’t speak English or use Roman script?

Image result for coke logo

Who in the world doesn’t see the “golden arches” and immediately know that McDonald’s is close by?

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These logos and these brands are worth millions if not billions of dollars, and they are ferociously protected and actively marketed around the world.

Some logos, however, are more than eye-catching; they’re supremely clever, some from equally powerful companies and some from local enterprises.

amazon

Amazon, of course, ships everything from A to Z and a lot of stuff in between. The arrow, in addition, looks very much like a smile, suggesting how pleased you’ll be with your order. Just don’t talk to the people who work there – they’re not terribly happy with their job conditions.

Baskin Robbins

Baskin-Robbins prides itself on its 31 flavors (seen above in the logo) but not on their value as health food. Duh. John Robbins, son of founder and owner, left the empire for more wholesome pastures, and encouraged his father to step away from the inevitable when he got him to live a healthier lifestyle after the father had been diagnosed with diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Years before, partner Burt Baskin had died from a heart attack.

Anyone who grew up with black-and-white televisions and saw color for the first time probably saw the NBC “proud as a peacock” logo:

Today’s stylized logo retains the peacock, even if you have to look for a bit to find it:

CBS

One of the cleverest logo inclusions is the one FedEx (or their designer) came up with. They want you to know that your package is on the way, and so that little subliminal arrow helps you understand that they move stuff, and quickly.

FedEx1

Never seen that arrow? Here it is:

FedEx2

Spartan golf clubs are represented by a man with a powerful swing – but if you look at the entire picture in a different light, you see a Spartan warrior in profile with his iconic helmet.

Spartan

This is one of the most delightful recent designs I’ve seen, with a very creative use of positive and negative space – the swan, the mallard, and the ampersand (&) all combined into a very pleasing and evocative image. Artwork was created by John Randall.

Swan and Mallard

Ever look closely at the Toblerone logo? Seen the bear in that mountain? Berne, Switzerland, is notable for its bears, icon of the city.

Toblerone2

But wait, there’s more!

Toblerone

Yes, the home city of Toblerone is also found in the name.

Then there’s the Tostitos logo. Look closely and you’ll see two folks sitting at a table with salsa, sharing a tortilla chip.

Tostitos

Le Tour de France logo clearly represents a person on a bicycle, with one wheel yellow, probably evoking the yellow jersey that the winner gets to wear. Unless he’s outed for massive doping, but that’s another story.

Tour de France

The official Toyota explanation of their logo is as follows:

In 1990, Toyota debuted the three overlapping Ellipses logo on American vehicles. The Toyota Ellipses symbolize the unification of the hearts of our customers and the heart of Toyota products. The background space represents Toyota’s technological advancement and the boundless opportunities ahead.

But whether or not they intended it, the image has an additional fillip of intrigue:

Toyota

One of my earliest PC-type computers was a Vaio – and their logo is a brilliant blending of the analog computers of the past (represented by the sine wave seen on an oscilloscope ( and the digital computers of today, represented by the “1” and “0” of binary bits.

Vaio

Yoga Australia managed to work the shape of their homeland into the image of a young lady in a yoga pose – Oi oi oi, mates!
Yoga Australia

Lastly – and there are many others that I haven’t touched on in this post, but these were some of my favorites – is the logo for Hitachi, which I have written about in detail.

Hitachi was once one of the most well-known brands in electronics; for more about this fascinating logo, click through.

Naturally, there is the other end of the scale – logos which are awful for any number of reasons.

original

This one just hurts to look at because of the clashing colors.

Many of the ones which have been called out can’t be shared here, as I try to keep this blog on a family-friendly plane – but if you’re interested, just do an image search on “the world’s worst logos” and you’ll see what I mean.

Logos, like domain names, can contribute to the success or failure of an enterprise, which is why companies are willing to spend significant amounts having their logos designed. If the stars align, a logo can be a tremendous and memorable success.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


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Facebook clickbait – it must work.

On my mobile device, since FB Purity doesn’t work on handhelds, I have to scroll through a lot of real garbage – often every other post is “sponsored.”

Here’s a sample of things I’ve seen just in the last few days.

Screenshot_2017-10-17-12-39-47Screenshot_2017-10-17-12-40-25Screenshot_2017-10-17-12-41-05Screenshot_2017-10-17-12-41-27Screenshot_2017-10-17-12-43-51Screenshot_2017-10-17-12-45-00Screenshot_2017-10-17-12-47-44Screenshot_2017-10-17-17-00-29Screenshot_2017-10-18-09-54-44Screenshot_2017-10-18-09-59-10Screenshot_2017-10-21-03-57-48

Obviously clickbait works, or companies wouldn’t do it – but it’s so annoying to see all these hackneyed “you won’t belive” and “this will shock you” attention-grabbers. The other part, of course, is that most of these articles are relatively valueless anyway, either [bad] opinion pieces or poorly-compiled lists.

It makes browsing Facebook on a mobile a less-than-fulfilling experience. I wish FB Purity were available for my Android, it really cleans things up on the desktop version.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

MAD™ Memories Department – Commercial Roulette

From Mad™ Magazine issue 59, December 1960, comes one of my favorite features. While the illustrations are intended to be humorous, the text is lifted from real commercials that aired during the era.

Commercial breaks were rigorously timed back in those days, so it was difficult to spin the dial during a break and find a program instead of another ad.

Click the images for larger versions; Artist, Bob Clarke. Writer, Gary Belkin.

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The Old Wolf has spoken.

 

Watch that fine print

spectrum

Wow, TV + Internet +Voice, $29.99! That certainly grabs the attention.

Spectrum 2.jpg

“Each.” That means the total price is about 90 bucks. Hmm, not such a great deal after all. And “Standard rates apply after 1 year,” says the teeny-tiny print on the back.

This is not exclusive to Spectrum – pull just about any flyer out of your mailbox or newspaper, and you’ll be likely to see something similar. Sales, marketing, and advertising – three industries that drive our economy, and all dependent on

  • persuasion
  • puffery
  • deception, and
  • outright fraud.

It’s scary, and except for the last one, it’s almost 100% legal.

1. Persuasion – the key to your wallet

Let’s look at the key points from Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini:

  • Reciprocation: Consider the in-store wine tasting, or the free scone at the coffee shop. We think we’re coming out on top, but the expectation to give back is strong within us, and leads us to buy something.
  • Consistency: We like to see ourselves as consistent souls with unwavering beliefs. So if you ask me to publicly declare my devotion to animal rights, for example, I’m more likely to donate money to PETA later.
  • Authority: Four out of five dentists recommend using the reassuring gloss of authority to sell this toothpaste.
  • Social Validation: Rugged individualist fantasies aside, we are more likely to do something if we see that many other people like us have also done it.
  • Scarcity: Anyone who has grabbed a plain, overpriced t-shirt from another’s hands at a “one-day-only” sale understands how persuasive limited-time and limited-quantity offers are.
  • Liking: If you like someone, you are more likely to say “yes” to her request. If she is pretty, you’re even more likely. And if she compliments you, well, that works, too.

The book goes into great detail about how marketers invoke the “click, whirr” response in us, but this is the core of the book. Ironically, it can be read either as a consumer guide or a training manual for salespeople!

But you see these techniques in place everywhere. JC Penney tried ditching frequent sales for “everyday low pricing” and it didn’t work. People like sales. Never mind that a sweater that’s marked $39.95 today, and goes on sale tomorrow at $42.95 (slashed from $79.95!) is more expensive “on sale” that it was yesterday, people will buy it because a) they have short memories, b) they’re not savvy shoppers, and c) it was on sale!!!

Need to pop into the grocery store for a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread? They are likely in the farthest corner of the store, so you have to walk by everything else to get there. High-profit items are carefully placed at convenient height, and the location of goods is regularly rotated to keep shoppers off balance – the longer you’re in the store searching for things, the more you’ll buy. Most items in grocery flyers are not “on sale” – they’re just there to make you think they are. Colors, smells, relaxing music and clever signage (“Only $1.00” – even though it’s always just been a dollar) add to the myriad ways stores try to part you from your cash.

2. Puffery – Marketing’s license to lie.

In law, puffery is a promotional statement or claim that expresses subjective rather than objective views, which no “reasonable person” would take literally. (Wikipedia.)

Thanks to the machinations of countless generations of attorneys, advertisers are free to say pretty much what they want about their products. The claims made via puffery may be patently false, but they are “not really lies” because they can’t be disproved. “The World’s Best Hot Dog” is an unassailable statement because no “reasonable person” could be expected to believe it, and it can be neither proved nor disproved, being a completely subjective statement – and puffery creates no express warranty or guarantee for the consumer. Some examples of puffery include:

  • Meals fit for a king!
  • Our mattresses are softer than a cloud!
  • Better ingredients, better pizza!
  • The Best Coffee in Town!
  • Lose Weight Fast!

If something is demonstrably false – i.e. “nature’s perfect food” can be challenged by science – then it’s probably punishable by law. Opinions, however, are not statements of fact.

3. Deception

Hall of Shame Advertisement

My favorite deceptive ad of all time, which I have referenced before. This is the crown jewel of shameful advertising. If you strip away all the puffery, this ad says “Buy our rabbit ears – they’re prettier!” But every statement in the ad can be interpreted in more than one way, and taken together (by someone who’s not especially sophisticated) they imply some incredible technological breakthrough at a dirt-cheap price.

Advertising restrictions were not as stringent a generation ago:

The jingle in this retro ad is a bit different from the one I remember:

If you want shoes with lots of pep, get Keds, kids, Keds.
For bounce and zoom in every step, get Keds, kids, Keds.
Those shock-proof arches can’t be beat
They sure are great for growing feet
You’ll be a champion athlete!
Keds, kids, Keds.

Equally bad was this ad for Kellogg’s Apple Jacks from the 60s:

“A bowl a day keeps the bullies away!” How many kids begged their moms for a box of this cereal, only to find that they got slammed into the lockers just as hard the next day?

If you want deceptive advertising, just head for the nutritional supplement industry. I take these people to task at every opportunity, as I recently did with ProBioSlim. I made the manufacturer so mad that I actually got my first cease-and-desist letter, out of which came precisely nothing.

4. Outright Fraud

Frankly, I feel like most affiliate-marketer-sponsored nutritional or weight-loss products are criminally fraudulent; just type “snake oil” in the search bar of this blog for myriad examples. But in this section I mention a few cases that actually spawned legal action and forced advertisers to change course.

  • In 2014, Red Bull paid $13 million to settle a class-action suit because it claimed “Red Bull Gives You Wings.”
  • In 2010, Kellogg claimed Rice Krispies could boost your immune system. In 2011. Kellogg agreed to pay $2.5 million to affected consumers, as well as donating $2.5 million worth of Kellogg products to charity.

  • New Balance was accused of false advertising in 2011 over a sneaker range that it claimed could help wearers burn calories. Nope. In 2012, New Balance agreed to pay a settlement of $2.3 million.
  • Lumos Labs: In January 2016, the makers of popular brain-training app Luminosity were fined $2 million by the FTC for deceptive advertising, claiming that the app could help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, among other things.

  • In the 1990s, the “Airborne” herbal supplement was everywhere. It claimed to hold off harmful bacteria and germs, preventing everyday ailments like the flu and common cold. The claims ended in a class-action lawsuit involving over $30 million in settlement payments.

Puffery is one thing, outright lies are another. While the FTC and the FDA are underfunded and overburdened, they do their best to protect the consumer from fraud and abuse wherever they can.

Ultimately, caveat emptor along with a healthy dose of skepticism, social awareness, and a willingness to do the necessary research is the consumer’s best defense against fraudulent advertising practices.

As usual, be careful out there.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Marketing by Deception Redux

I’ve written about deceptive marketing practices before, notably here and here. Finding people who are willing to ascribe to ethical business practices is a challenge in this world, and in marketing and advertising the phenomenon is well-nigh absent.

Here’s an example of an egregious bait-and-switch ad I received in the mail last week (click images to enlarge)

Deception Front

Deception Back

Now, before we go any further, some will already be shouting “But it’s a car dealership! What do you expect?” Yes, well, more about that later, but let’s look at the flyer in question.

The front clearly states,

“If the number you scratched off matches to any of the prize numbers, you have definitely won! Proceed immediately to Tucker Chevrolet to confirm and collect your prize.”

You’ll see that the scratched-off number matches the $250.00 prize in my case. I’m not a fool – I had no real illusions that I had won anything of value, but I went down the rabbit hole to see how the game is played.

And, as it turns out – as in so many instances – the large print giveth, and the small print taketh away. Look on the back, and you’ll see this:

If the number printed next to your name in the address panel of this mailer matches exactly to the winning number on the prize board at the sales event, Setp. 27 – Oct. 2, 2017, then you win the prize that matches your number. The number you scratched off does not give you a choice, but an opportunity to win a prize. (Odds of winning grand prize of $25,000 cash 1:499,999. Odds of winning 60″ HDTV (value $499) 1:499,999. Odds of winning $25,000 cash 1:499,999. Odds of winning $1000 cash 1:499, 999. Odds of winning $250 Walmart card 1:499,999. Odds of winning five dollar want Walmart card 499,995:499,999.

In plain English, you’re walking out of there with a five-buck Walmart card, unless you’re the kind of person that regularly wins the lottery. I’d love to see a reddit AMA from someone who actually scored the grand prize in one of these “giveaways.”

The bold text in the disclaimer above seems to directly contradict the blaring statement on the front of the mailer, but it should be noticed that “you have definitely won” does not specify what you have won. The mind, however, fills in the gaps and brings you down to the dealership, which is the whole point.

The salesman who showed me the board, patronizingly explained to me that I was not a large prize winner, and handed me my $5.00 Walmart card “so you don’t walk away with nothing” indicated that he’d like a chance to earn my business whenever I wanted to trade in my Prius.

Odds of earning my business at a dealership that resorts to such deceptive advertising: 0:7,571,086,556 (number changes continually).

For all the good that car dealerships do – sponsoring Little League teams, funding scholarships for disadvantaged children, donating vehicles to first responders, paying their taxes and flying big flags, people generally have an unfavorable opinion of auto dealers, both used and new. And that reputation is deserved, even though some are better than others. There are just too many rotten apples in the barrel for the entire industry to clean up its own act.

Car sales is a business where the goal is to make the sale, get the commission, get the customer to agree to as many worthless add-ons as possible, buy the gold service contract, use dealer financing at the highest possible rate (if you manage to score 0%, you know they’re making money on unadvertised holdbacks or something else that you can’t see), and if the customer is really stupid, go for the lease option.

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There are too many hungry salesmen and sales managers out there, some of whom would make Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross look like Miss Julie from Romper Room. Ethics isn’t even in their vocabulary. And based on the kind of advertising campaign we’re discussing, it doesn’t really seem to have a presence in corporate boardrooms either.

“But it’s just advertising, nobody really expects the truth!”

Well, yes. Yes, they do. I went into this little exercise with my eyes wide open, so coming away with a $5.00 Walmart gift card is actually more than I had expected. But I know there are many people who truly thought they had won something significant, and left feeling used and cheated – or, if they were really unlucky, with a new car.

TANSTAAFL: There’s no such thing as a free lunch. It’s good to remember, especially in the world of advertising. Be careful out there.

The Old Wolf has spoken.