Imagine my surprise when during keyword research I saw the phrase, ” is advertising fundamentally deceptive” pop up. I hope that this question’s rise to the top of the search queries was the result of students being assigned this topic.
For business owners, this brings up a more important question. Does advertising need to be deceptive to be effective?
Does advertising need to be deceptive to be effective?
Jerry Della Famina once said,
“There is a great deal of advertising that is much better than the product. When that happens, all that the good advertising will do is put you out of business faster.“
Advertising that is fundamentally deceptive will ultimately do more harm than good. This is especially true in a world where social media gives such a powerful voice to consumers. In the digital age, people are constantly connected to social media channels. That makes it easier than ever to share their opinions on products and services with other potential customers. People have many platforms at their fingertips that allow them to share information. When that information is about a product they love, it’s called Word of Mouth marketing. Word of mouth marketing can build a business faster and easier than you ever thought possible.
The ability to share information isn’t limited to products people love. Deceptive advertising can also inspire people to share information on social media. These same social media channels can be also be used to shine the light of truth on deceptive advertising.
Small business marketing is made up of more than just advertising. Marketing is the way you “package and present” your business to the world. The purpose of advertising is to communicate with potential customers. Advertising also sets customer’s expectations. Unrealistic expectations lead to unhappy customers. Unhappy customers leave bad reviews. They’ll also tell everyone who will listen. Remember, the entire purpose of your advertising is to create a base of happy customers for your business.
Temporary Bump in Sales
Deceptive advertising may give you a temporary “bump” in sales. However, those customers will be cranky customers. In the long run, you’ll be setting your business up for failure.
In the early 1900s, some merchants sold their goods from a wagon. These “snake oil salesmen” were famous for creating unrealistic product expectations. In those days, they just made sure to not pull their wagon into that town again. In the 21st century, customers with unmet unrealistic expectations will start trashing your name all over the internet. (Read What Every Business Owner Needs to Know about Web 2.0)
Is Advertising Fundamentally Deceptive?
Will Rogers thought so. He said,
“Advertising is the art of convincing people to spend money they don’t have for something they don’t need.”
Advertising is purchasing a way to communicate with your target audience. You control the message and delivery in advertising. With that in mind, advertising is most effective when it’s not deceptive. Effective advertising lets people know you have a solution to their problems.
Let’s be honest, does anyone want to invest in ineffective advertising? Of course not. Why bother advertising if you don’t want it to be effective advertising?. Effective advertising communicates truth and sets expectations. Lying in order to get the sale sets you up for future failure.
A Waste of Time and Money
My biggest problem with deceptive advertising is that it’s a waste of time and money.
I received a deceptive marketing postcard in the mail recently. It was from an insurance company located about 45 minutes north of me. The postcard listed all of the pertinent details of my home. It listed very attractive price quote that would save me over $1200 a year on my homeowners insurance. So, I picked up the phone and called. The postcard worked. It made the phone ring! The call began with the standard, “let me get your information so I can prepare a quote” spiel. At the end, she asked about my current carrier. Obviously disappointed, I learned they only represented my current carrier. I wouldn’t be getting a follow up phone call.
So while this deceptive advertising made the phone ring, it didn’t get my business. It’s no wonder this guy is sending postcards to a market 45 minutes south of his location. Having burned his local bridges, he was now reaching out to my community.
Focus on ROI
Postcard marketing requires a significant investment. A personalized campaign like this one even more so. The ROI on this campaign had to be dismal. Don’t measure your marketing by how many times the phone rings. Measure your marketing by how many sales you make.
It appears this business is making a very common mistake. They’re focusing on getting new customers. Since they’re reaching well outside their market, it appears they haven’t been focusing on delighting their existing customers. The long term value of a customer is far greater than their initial purchase. Happy existing customers are a source of the holy grail of marketing, word of mouth marketing.
Deceptive advertising may make the phone ring. You may be able to turn that phone call into a sale, but you’ll probably have to lie to make that sale. This leads to creating an army of cranky customers, armed with social media to spread their message. I just don’t understand paying for advertising that lies to customers. It didn’t make sense to me when KFC did in in their 2009 coupon disaster. I still don’t understand it today.
Editing October 22, 2021 for content.