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.

Working “for the exposure” – an Open Letter to Elon Musk.

Dear Mr. Musk:

Make no mistake about it – I’m a fan. You have done and continue to do amazing things with technology, which will benefit humanity in incalculable ways as things only continue to improve.

I’m putting “Unicorngate” down to a simple lack of awareness of what happens on the ground to virtually countless artists, writers, web designers, composers, photographers, playwrights, and so many others who depend on their sweat and blood and tears and creativity to make a living. Tom Edwards is one such, and intriguingly enough from all I’ve read, he remains a fan of your efforts.

Ask any creative soul – they’ve probably been asked to work for free. One of the best essays on the subject I’ve seen includes illustrations by Emmie Tsumura, who imagines the faces of people who want you to work “for exposure.” I recommend the piece.

tsumura1

Illustration by Emmie Tsumura

These people probably fall into one of two categories: Cheap bastards, and the totally unaware. Mr. Musk, I don’t know you from Adam’s off-ox, but you don’t strike me as falling into the first category. I suspect that what happened is that somewhere in your organization, someone who wasn’t even thinking about copyright violations thought Tom Edwards’ work would make a good bit of marketing fluff, and before you or anyone else at the top was aware, it had been incorporated at multiple levels.

The right thing to do would have been to compensate Mr. Edwards fairly for the privilege of continuing to use his work, or to apologize for the error, pull the illustration from your materials, compensate him fairly anyway, and move on.

Telling him that suing would be kind of lame, and intimating that the exposure was good for his business, is essentially being this guy:
tsumura2

Illustration by Emmie Tsumura

Don’t be that guy. Your company can afford to pay people fairly for their work. The optics of doubling down on an issue where you’re clearly taking the wrong position are terrible, and the world needs Tesla to look good.

That’s all.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The Drug Pricing Maze

I’m grateful to have health insurance. Many, many people don’t, and that’s an ongoing debate in our society right now. That said, I absolutely don’t understand what’s going on with drug prices.

I get my long-term scripts filled by Magellan, a mail-order pharmacy. When my last batch of prescriptions was delivered, the printed circulars that came with them had some interesting information that got me thinking.

These are all very common drugs, not rare ones. Actual drug names have been replaced with ℞ A, ℞ B, and ℞ C.


℞ A: The lowest GoodRx price for the most common version of ℞ A is around $4.00, 90% off the average retail price of $43.29 (30-day supply)

OTC versions, for comparison:

Amazon: $27.96
Walmart: $8.00
Kroger: $17.06
Costco: $19.26

Magellan states that the ℞ price for a 90-day supply is $187.20
With Insurance: $10.00
Cash discount: $10.00
Net price: 0

So I ended up getting this one for free.


℞ B: (GoodRx) The cost for ℞ B is around $13 for a supply of 90 capsules, depending on the pharmacy you visit. Prices are for cash paying customers only and are not valid with insurance plans.

This drug is not available over the counter.

Magellan states that the ℞ price for a 90-day supply is $397.22
With Insurance: $10.00


℞ C: The lowest GoodRx price for the most common version of ℞ C is around $10.54, 92% off the average retail price of $134.99 (30-day supply)

Not available OTC.

Magellan states that the ℞ price for a 90-day supply is $450.00
With Insurance: $10.00


So I’ve paid $20.00 for scripts that should have cost me $1034.42

These numbers from Magellan just don’t add up. Are these “self-pay” prices, or just randomly inflated numbers to make me think I’m getting a killer deal? What is the “average retail price” anyway, if nobody pays that?

I found this article at Lifehacker, and it addresses the issue that I mention here – but even after reading the article, to me it is still a mass of confusion. And I realize that in terms of the complexity of the entire situation, what I’ve outlined is just the frost on the surface of the Antarctic ice sheet.

The situation is untenable, and I can clearly not choose the drugs in front of me.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Domain Listings: Another Scam

For a while now, people have been receiving deceptive solicitations from a company called “Domain LIstings, PO Box 19607, Las Vegas, NV 89132-0607.” I got one just last week.

You can see the letter they send out below:

domain1domain2

The letter is designed to think that you have to pay to re-register your domain, but this outfit is nothing more than an American version of the “World Business List” – offering worthless services for an outrageous fee.

Please note that these bottom-feeders offer you virtually nothing that Google doesn’t do for free. Their “directory” will not give you a whit of exposure. They offer 24/7/365 exposure, which is exactly what you get when Google and the other search engines crawl your site.

Customer reviews at Yelp, just as an example.

If you get one of these letters, it’s not an invoice. Just throw it away, and stay away from these scum-eaters.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

To the New York Times

Edit: The Times on January 8 responded to reader criticism of the obituary in question. Their response, while acknowledging some failings, essentially circled the wagons and justified their position. This is still unacceptable.

On January 3, The New York Times published an obituary for Thomas S. Monson, late president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who was revered by its members as their prophet, seer, and revelator.

Monson

Instead of taking the opportunity to pay tribute to an honorable and humble servant of humanity who spent most of his 90 years of life ministering to the lonely, the widowed, and the forgotten, they took an opportunity to turn what should have been an expression of respect into a reprehensible potshot at the Church and its doctrine, commonly known as Mormonism.

A respected newspaper that is charged with reporting facts objectively and without bias instead decided that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was fair game for mockery and disparagement, and prostituted their reputation for a chance to take a reprehensible Cheap Shot at an organization of 15 million members that has done immense good throughout the world since its inception. Instead of an obituary, the piece became a virtual hatchet job, echoing the complaints of disaffected members and sounding like something that might have been written by Gerald and Sandra Tanner.

The Church is a community of faith that believes in ongoing, modern revelation, that believes in a Church led directly by the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s not a democratic institution where people can agitate and effectuate changes in doctrine. They are free to participate, or not. They are free to follow their leaders, or not. They are free to remain members, or not. They don’t even have to think the same way as their leaders if they don’t want to, and they can remain members in good standing. If the Church is not for them, let them go where they may and find joy – but a vocal minority that captures the attention of a click-hungry press seems to think that they, not God, are directing the affairs of the Church, and they are bitterly angry about this.

It is these feelings and protesting voices that the Times chose to bring to the forefront of President Monson’s obituary, not his nearly a century of life and virtual decades of compassionate service on a personal level as well as an administrator in the Church’s hierarchy. This represents a gross contravention of decency and reputability, for which the Times owes every Latter-day Saint and every lover of respectable journalism a heartfelt apology.

The Times is a newspaper. There is nothing that says they can’t do all the investigative journalism or “exposé” pieces that they want, as long as the facts they report are verifiable and accurate. That’s what journalists do. But to rest this sort of poison-pen letter on the memory of a good, honest, and decent man, possibly one of the most Christlike individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of associating with, is the ultimate abrogation of all principles of decent journalism that there could be, worthy of a trash publication like The National Enquirer and not one of the nation’s flagship newspapers. Shame, shame, the very deepest shame on The Times.

I trust that they will do the right thing, and express appropriate regret for this horrible lapse of judgment, from writer to editors to publisher. They are, of course, free to choose – but they should remember that every choice has prices and benefits, and choose wisely.

The Old Wolf has Spoken.

 

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.

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.

dt960519shc0

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.