Is Overselling The Same As Lying?

Have you ever had this? Dream on, babe.

Which brands are you loyal to? Not just like or prefer, but insist on?

A product that if it’s sold out, you won’t accept a substitute — you’ll wait until you can get your loved brand.

So, how many loyalty brands do you have?

Damn few, I suspect.

Sadly, we live in an age of parity. Once something new and exciting is introduced and gains popularity, an army of imitators immediately clamors for its market share.

Enter marketers.

We’re hired to bring attention and interest to the brand and create desire. We’re spinmeisters putting our client’s product into the best possible light, even if that product is mediocre. Or worse.

And despite the high horse pontification many agency leaders give, we’ll work for clients whose wares are less than top-notch (as long as their checks cash).

Is that unethical? I don’t think so. Product preference is personal and subjective, like the ad work we create.

Then again, maybe I’m just a master rationalizer.

Which brings us to overselling.

Every product photo shoot is a lie. A stylist slavishly labors over the “hero” product, be it a sandwich, beer pour, cell phone, or pizza cheese pull. It must be perfect for the camera because that’s the image we want to be burned into the public’s subconsciousness.

The perfect-looking McDonald’s hamburger has only ever existed at a McDonald’s print or TV shoot. Your actual results may vary.

A lot.

Does that perfect image in our brain serve to enhance the taste experience of our imperfect burger reality?

I’m no shrink, but I suspect so.

I’ve worked on many challenger brands (that’s a nice way of saying they’re not the preferred or leading brand), and I’ve always given my best shot at making my client’s product as appealing as possible.

It may have been an execution portraying humorous overenthusiasm for the brand or using an insight to demonstrate how the product satisfies a human need/desire or simply finding a dramatic and interesting way to make the product desirable.

Were these ideas overselling? I don’t think so.

Creativity is a weapon. The FTC can’t bust you for that.


The best deterrent to overselling is common sense. When people discover your product is much less than advertised, you will have pissed off someone who’ll never trust you or purchase your brand again, and, he’ll spread the word of your product’s crappy performance.

Since every one of us has 12,934 very close Facebook friends, plus many contacts in other social channels (including real life), well, that’s a lot of anger reverberating throughout the land

No wonder Hollywood hates Rotten Tomatoes.

That’s why the best ad people must be empathetic to their audience. It’s our job to be its advocate, even if that means pissing off our clients. We must save clients from themselves.

Otherwise, we’ll get blamed when the overselling ad backfires.

I’d rather get fired now for fighting than fired later for surrendering.

Of course, you could simply turn your brand over to the public and let it decide and control the conversation.

Good luck with that, brave brand — let social media rule your fate!

Imagine how much easier a marketer’s job would be with a fantastic must-have product.

I dream more companies would subscribe to something Steve Jobs’ said: “The companies forget what it means to make great products. The product sensibility and the product genius that brought them to that monopolistic position gets rotted out by people running these companies who have no conception of a good product versus a bad product. They have no conceptions of the craftsmanship that’s required to take a good idea and turn it into a good product. And they really have no feeling in their hearts usually about wanting to really help the consumers.”

Wouldn’t it be great to have such a product to market? Yes indeedy!

Then again, maybe I just want my job to be easier.


Patrick Scullin is an empathetic adman and founder of ASO Advertising.

He has two blogs: Empathetic Adman (marketing pontification) and The Lint Screen (satire, smartassery humor, pop culture ramblings, and advice for people getting hip replacements).