Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cynical Marketing

We live in an age of cynical marketing and I don't like it. I don't like it at all.

I define cynical marketing as when an advertiser preys on the uninformed, the ignorant or the easily swayed.

A classic example is putting the phrase "Digital Ready" on speakers, headphones or earbuds. Sound, as perceived by the human ear, is analog. It's the relative difference between waves of air pressure. Speakers generate analog sound - it's how they work. Speakers do not know what the original source of the sound is, they just take electrons coming on from wires, generate a magnetic field and use that field to move a cone of paper or similar material which moves air to generate sound. All analog. It doesn't matter if the source of sound is a human singing into a microphone, a string vibrating, a synthesizer, a CD, a vinyl record, or computer's MIDI output, all signals feed into an analog amplifier, which connects to an analog speaker. So there is no reason to put "Digital Ready" on a speaker's packaging unless you want someone to purchase your product instead of an identical product that doesn't state it. You may even charge a little more. Cynical.

I received two examples of cynical marketing recently. One was from Xcel Energy, my electric utility, which I still call - and always will - NSP. They are marketing their appliance warranty service, which is a worthy service as far as I can tell. On their flyer, the second sentence states "Prevent unnecessary liquidation of your assets if one of your appliances breaks down." Liquidation of your assets? Liquidation is a term most commonly used when describing bankruptcy, so NSP describing the consequences of an appliance breakdown in terms of some people's worst fear. What they really mean is that you may have to write out a budget-busting check but they are saying it in a way to generate enough fear to get some people to buy. And when you buy using fear as a criteria, you aren't making rational decisions and that is what they want. See? Cynical. Legal, morally grey, but 100% cynical.

The other mailer I received was from Becker Furniture World. I've never shopped there or even know where it is. This one included a scratch-off card. You scratch off an area to determine whether you get 40%, 45% or 50% off a limited time shopping spree. Imagine my surprise when my card showed 50% off! I got news for you - all the cards said 50% off. The furniture store is trying to find people who aren't smart enough to realize that an unsolicited mailer is always going to give you the highest discount, and to snare people who play scratch-off games, who, by definition, aren't well versed in math. That's right, the store wants customers who aren't smart enough to realize that everyone is getting the same discount and that the prices are probably double what the competition lists. Legal, kinda-sorta ethical, but 100% cynical.

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