Cheating,  Deceptive Advertising,  Deceptive Marketing

Deceptive Marketing, Star Trek and Lance Armstrong

Few things upset me in the world, but one of the things that drives me crazy is deceptive advertising and marketing. Before I go any further, let’s define deceptive. To me deceptive means something that someone would not expect under normal buying circumstances. For example, if you purchase something and then you are automatically put on a monthly subscription without being notified first, that is something I would consider deceptive. Even if the subscription information is in the “fine print”, it is still deceptive. The Google definition is giving an appearance or impression different from the true one; misleading – misleading is the operative word.
If you need to deceive someone to sell your product or service, your product or service SUCKS! But what if you are using deceptive advertising and marketing to boost the sales of a product or service that doesn’t suck. If that is the case, YOU suck and anyone in your chain of command that allows this type of behavior, also SUCKS.

What is Normal?

One might argue that if it is in the fine print, you haven’t been deceptive. Back to my definition – something that one would not expect under normal buying circumstances. I guess in this case we need to define what NORMAL is.

There was an episode of Star Trek where the crew of the Enterprise took leave on a planet where there weren’t any laws. Jean Luc Picard (Captain of the Enterprise) asked the leader of the planet how everyone knows right from wrong without laws. The leader answered, “Instinctively, we all know what is right and wrong.” The barometer I use to define deceptive are techniques I would not use when marketing to my grandmother or anyone else I am close to. If there is even a small feeling of apprehension when deploying a questionable strategy, the tactic is deceptive and is killed on the spot. Caveat Emptor.


With that in mind, why do so many companies use deceptive advertising and marketing campaigns to sell their goods or services. Here are some plausible answers:

  • They don’t think they are being deceptive – I think modern business and garnering sales have blurred the line between right and wrong. Burying something in the fine print may not be illegal, but since we all know hardly anyone reads the fine print, we should make buying conditions more obvious. If your product or service is as good as you claim, why would you need to bury anything in the fine print anyhow.
  • They know it is deceptive and they don’t care – These are your Bernie Madoffs of the other world. Somehow, they have convinced themselves that they are worthy of an obscene amount of money at everyone else’s expense. The word narcissist comes to mind along with a bunch of others.
  • They can’t compete without being deceptive – In this case, the business’s competition is so fierce that they will not gain any market share at all without being deceptive. These types of companies are the worst offenders as far as I am concerned. Why not go back to the drawing board and make your product or service better rather than lying to everyone and saying that it is something it isn’t.

Market Apathy

There are a myriad of other reasons but there is one that all others could fall under and I call it Market Apathy. In other words, businesses know they are being deceptive, and they really don’t care, because they know we have come to expect being “ripped off.”

In fact, we are so accustomed to being ripped off, we become skeptical when we aren’t. If you have ever heard the question, “What’s the catch,” you have an idea of how Market Apathy is working against you.

In order to come up with a solution, you must understand the cause of the problem. In my opinion there is a huge double standard. We teach kids not to “cheat” in school and yet “cheating” is the norm in corporate America. What I mean by “cheating” is the gray area between what we know is right and what we know is wrong.

To add to the irony, we chastise others for cheating when the voice of the market condones it at every level. If you don’t cheat, you don’t get ahead. If companies don’t cheat, they lose to those that do. The question then becomes, is it cheating if everyone else is doing it?

Lance Armstrong and the Tour de France

Lance Armstrong, the disgraced seven-time winner of the Tour de France, is a victim of this double standard as are several high-performing athletes and executives. In the case of Armstrong, he knew everyone was doping and that if he didn’t dope there was no chance that he would ever win the Tour De France. This is evidenced by the seven Tours de France victories that were taken away from Armstrong and not assigned to another winner, because every other rider that placed in the top 10 and beyond had been “popped” for doping. Armstrong’s behavior off the bike aside, he really had no choice if he was going to compete in the world’s largest bicycle race.

At this point, you might be wondering about a solution. The reality is, there isn’t one because it would require everyone that is cheating (to get ahead) to stop, and there will always be someone who cheats. There is a solution for your business though – if you are using deceptive practices to advertise or market your business, stop. You may have to adjust your business accordingly, but in the long run, I am convinced that people would rather go into a business deal with eyes wide open than find out they have been deceived down the road.

Eventually, those that have been deceived are going to discover the truth and at that point they are going to feel like they were duped and the likelihood of them doing business with you in the future is not high. Success in business boils down to two things – trust and likability. It is easy to be likable. It is difficult to earn and keep your customer’s trust. The quickest way of losing it is using deceptive advertising and marketing.

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