Lies, Half-Truths, and Fairy Tales : Are B2B Marketers also Beginning To Lose The Plot with Deceitful Marketing ?

I usually start my weekdays with a quick workout in the gym and like most modern gyms, the place I workout has these big television screens placed all around our workout area. A couple of those screens are hard tuned to show tele-shopping channels exclusively. While I suspect a special arrangement between the broadcaster & my club, it is absolutely exasperating to see advertisements for gadgets that guarantee gains with no pains and in no time! You most probably know what I am talking about, miracle drugs, sauna belts, and magic tools that promise to burn fat within minutes with no effort.

Here you are sweating out in the gym, burning calories the hard way and all that your eyes see are fitness models vouching for some sauna belt that melts your abdominal fat away at a push of a button.

While it is easy to find a cricket stadium full of people who have fallen for one of these outrageous advertisements, experts believe, when it comes to fitness, if something seems too good to be true is, it probably is.

The Indian real-estate advertising is yet another classic example of false-hearted communication. Just this morning I saw a hoarding on my way to work from a popular South Indian real estate promoter.

For a layman like me, this advertisement indicates that if I bought an apartment for INR 37 lacs, I will earn a monthly rental income of about INR 30,500 per month. What lies behind is cold-hearted deceit. I own an upmarket apartment that cost me almost twice what they are quoting & earns me a little more than half of what they are claiming. The average — annual rental rates in the areas this builder has properties in Chennai are in the range of 3% — 5% and this builder indicates a rate that is upwards of 10%.

It’s anybody’s guess that advertisement has a misleading illustration with no disclaimer whatsoever, customers who read this are highly likely to incorrectly understand and fall into the trap. A classic bait-and-switch strategy where you lure a customer into a conversation with an attractive offer, once they get in, you sell them something else.

This Business Insider article talks about some of the 15 biggest lies told by marketers & advertisers.

Business Insider 15 Biggest Lies Ever Told

Are B2B Marketers also Beginning To Lose The Plot with Deceitful Marketing ?

A couple of days back someone forwarded this Dilbert strip to me. While I know he didn’t mean anything ill about marketing, I fear in a many organizations business expectation from marketing has come down to this. Marketing is all about being an item-number or gimmicks.

(An item number or an item song, in Indian cinema, is a musical performance that is often shown as a part of the movie but most of the times without any importance to the plot of the movie)

So here’s a question to my fellow B2B Marketing Colleagues?

Many of us operate in markets that have very little differentiation. Business has big expectations from us, and sometimes you are left with limited choices in the way you communicate. How ethical are we in our communication?

Here’s a quick checklist from Mark D Somma to see if you are managing a deceptive brand.

1. It doesn’t actually do what you say it does?

2. Is the language vague?

3. Is it packed with small print?

4. You retouch results?

5. It looks like one thing, but it isn’t?

6. You use disguising language?

7. You’re not being honest about where it’s made or how?

8. You’ve made it seem more popular than it is?

9. You make it more complex than it needs to be?

10. You provide reassurances that aren’t true?

11. You scare people unnecessarily?

12. You overplay your contribution?

13. You’re taking credit for something that you only played a small part in?

14. You are making direct comparisons that are hollow?

15. You’ve overlooked some inconvenient information?

16. You say something is yours and it isn’t?

17. It wasn’t or it doesn’t do what it says on the box?

18. It needs something else to work (that’s never mentioned)?

19. The suggested price isn’t close to being the real price?

When we wear the hat of the consumer we hate marketers who do such misleading advertisements. However, when we wear the marketer’s cap, our perceptions change.

While I hate those advertisements I referred to in the beginning of this article, I got to admit it, there have been these occasions I have had to massage a case study or two to influence customer’s thinking about a brand. I’ve had to fix a report, by a little, to say what we wanted to say than what the report actually indicated. While Ethical Marketing is more about morals & philosophy than marketing, I wonder if we really have the room to be 100% ethical in our jobs and still be considered as someone who brings value to business.

Here’s an interesting take by Hubspot on how to be honest in your marketing efforts :

1) Say Who You’re NOT For

2) Admit to a Weak Product Feature

3) Embrace the Elephant in the Room

4) Praise Your Competitors

5) Laugh at Yourself

6) Replace Lame Excuses With the Truth

7) Share Disappointments Instead of Hiding Them

While some might say honest marketing may be an oxymoron, do you think it’s easy to be honest & 100% ethical in our marketing messaging?

Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.