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Manipulative Marketing Corner: "Bargain of a Lifetime"

Manipulative Marketing Corner: "Bargain of a Lifetime"

August 24, 2008

Creative or Deceptive? You decide ...

The desire to increase sales often leads us into some very gray areas where there doesn't always seem to be a clear right or wrong answer. I tackle a dilemma each month and then I want to hear what you would do. Send your comments to me at JonGoldman@BrandLauncher.com. Then, next month I will give you my take on whether it was creative or deceptive.

This month's dilemma 'Bargain of a Lifetime?

While shopping for a digital video camera, I searched online to buy a Canon recommended by Consumer Reports. Of course, I could pay $999 to buy directly from Canon but I was blown away to see ads on Google for the same camera for only $339. Boy, was I excited!

It wasn't until I called to order when I became suspicious. I was put on hold for 20 minutes - how's that for customer service?! When I finally did get someone on the phone, I learned that I would just be paying for a camera, nothing else! I wouldn't get the manufacturer's warranty, information manual, software, battery, power adapter and cables. Everything I would need to run the camera was not included. By the time, I would have ordered the 'add-ons', I would have perhaps paid more than if I would have just bought it from the manufacturer.

Search on Google for just about any commodity and you'll see companies listing ads at super-discounted prices. But those prices are for stripped down versions of what you're looking for, and may not give you everything you need to use the product.

What do you think? Is that just savvy marketing or is it deceptive advertising?

Last month's dilemma

It looked just like an invoice!

A promotion that actually looks like an invoice is among the most effective campaigns some marketers use to increase renewals. It's especially effective when sent to businesses.

The ad looks so much like an invoice that the accounting department will simply pay it assuming that it needs to be paid. It's also effective when sent to consumers and some may believe it's an invoice for something they already ordered.


My response: Deceptive. Deceptive. If this promotion is sent to prospects who have never used the service and it doesn't state clearly 'this is not a bill, you're under no obligation to pay', then it's deceptive. In such cases, it's deliberately intended to deceive prospects into thinking that they already requested a product or service and now need to pay.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, List-Corp was using a promotion that looked like an invoice and even claimed to provide dates of services performed and threatened to 'deactivate' service even though prospects never had the service in the first place. This is clearly deceptive.

However, I have no problem with sending a promotion that looks like an invoice if other promotions and even samples have been set previously and as long as it clearly states it's a solicitation. At that point in the campaign, the promotion simply serves as a response device since prospects are already familiar with the product being marketed.