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)
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.
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.