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Manipulative Marketing Corner: "Results may vary"

Manipulative Marketing Corner: "Results may vary"

April 24, 2009

Previous dilemma...

Which office am I calling?
Companies are trying to make themselves bigger than they are by advertising multiple phone numbers with area codes from different cities or states, even if they don't have offices in those areas. One termite company does this and they had phone numbers in four separate cities in North Carolina.

They didn't say they had offices in those four cities but they certainly wanted it to appear to customers that they are local and they are part of a much bigger and perhaps stable company. This can easily be done through your local phone company, or through Voice-Over IP services like Skype, but is it a good thing to do? Is it really ethical?

My response: Deceptive. This is a deliberate attempt by companies to make customers believe they are local when they aren't. Now, if you do have offices in those areas, certainly it makes sense to use the local area codes. Or at least add a disclaimer that says the number is for your convenience but we may not have an office in your area. That's the right way to do it.

But for companies to make it look like they have offices where they don't is fraudulent. What if a customer realizes that the company they thought they could trust doesn't have offices in those area codes? How would the customer feel? Better yet, how would somebody try to explain why they have area codes in those cities where they don't have offices? If you're ever worried about trying to explain something, don't do it. Most likely it's the wrong thing to do.

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@YourBusinessGPS.com. Then, next month I will give you my take on whether it was creative or deceptive.

This month's dilemma...

'Results may vary' may be required language in ads
I've talked about this before, but now the Federal Trade Commission is weighing in on the topic of testimonials. We've all seen testimonials (and perhaps used similar ones) that say, 'I doubled my sales in one month '' or 'I lost 52 pounds in 4 weeks '' or 'I earned more in one month than I did in 12 months as an accountant ''

The FTC says those testimonials will be illegal unless the advertiser can prove they reflect the typical experience of a consumer or a disclosure is included that says 'results may vary.' That's according to a proposal the FTC is considering right now.

Example: An advertisement for heat pumps includes testimonials from three consumers who say their monthly utility bills went down by $100, $125, and $150 after installing the company's heat pumps. According to the FTC, 'The ad will likely be interpreted as conveying that such savings are representative of what consumers who buy the company's heat pump can generally expect.'

Should the ad include a disclosure that says: 'Results may vary'? What if only 20% of customers save $100 or more on their utility bills is it enough to include language that says, 'Results not typical'?

What do you think? I'd love to get your thoughts on this one. Send your comments to me directly at JonGoldman@YourBusinessGPS.com.