Advertising sells products. Yet, for all the time advertisers spend trying to make their products stand out, many ads don’t seem to be very well thought out. In fact, many of them have the opposite of the intended effect on me. More often than I would expect, I see an advertisement that either insults my intelligence or makes false assumptions about me. In those cases, the advertisers have done more harm than good by decreasing the likelihood I will by their product. Here are twelve such approaches:
“Everyone needs one of these – it’s a ‘must-have.’” This lie is so common that it’s almost cliché. I have never seen a specific product that everyone needs, even in the category of necessities. Everyone needs clothing; not everyone needs a pair of this season’s hottest XYZ brand jeans. Not everyone even needs a winter coat.
“Our product is the most popular.” Not only do these advertisers assume that I care what is popular (I don’t), they are also committing a logical fallacy. To quote an old song by my favorite artist, “So they loved Jerry Lewis in France – does that make him funny?” (Are there any other Steve Taylor fans out there?) Just because many people buy something doesn’t mean it’s the best product. Maybe it’s simply the most readily available, or maybe everyone is buying it simply because they’ve been told that everyone else is buying it. However, sorting items by popularity does occasionally help me when I search online – for example, if I’m trying to find a newly released book or video that shares a title with several earlier versions.
“You are one of a select few” Appeals to personal prestige interest me even less than appeals to popularity. I especially hate those that give no indication of why I was selected. (I might believe the line if the message included a personal detail of something I had done to earn the honor.) And if I am really one of a select few, why am I receiving a direct mail piece with bulk mail postage instead of a personal call or visit?
“You deserve it.” Coming from a friend, I might be tempted to believe this statement. Coming from an advertiser who never met me, forget it. How do they know what I deserve? I could be a hardened criminal who deserves nothing more than a long prison sentence.
“Our product is more convenient than the others.” When I see “convenient,” I automatically think, “overpriced.” Convenience is sometimes worth the extra price, but the label of “convenient” is often used to cover up the fact that the product doesn’t have much else to offer for its higher price.
“Our product will help you save money.” Having a coupon or special that allows me to save on a particular product makes sense. Implying that buying the product will actually help me put money in the bank does not. I like to save on (spend less for) things I was planning to buy, but buying something I wouldn’t normally buy will not save me money. If I want to save money, I can do it by not buying the product.
“Free gift with purchase.” If I buy something and receive something else with it, that something else is not free – it’s included in the price. While I’m on the subject, “free gift” in itself bothers me – if it’s a gift, it’s free by definition. “Free gift” makes me feel like the advertisers think I wouldn’t understand what the word “gift” means.
“Priced to sell.” Anything with a price on it is priced to sell. If it weren’t for sale, it wouldn’t have a price on it. “Priced for a quick sale” makes sense to me; the shortened form does not.
Self-proclaimed “great deals” When sellers say that their products are a great deal, I think, “A great deal for you or for me?” I also hate to see “best deal on the Internet” and similar claims because I know the seller can’t possibly verify the truth of that statement, and sometimes the best deal for one person is not the best deal for another.
“Urgent” on the outside of an envelope. When I open an envelope marked “urgent” to find an offer for yet another credit card, I don’t bother to read any of it. This ploy is a bit like yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, though admittedly less dangerous. Short-dated bills, warnings of impending doom, and certain legal documents may qualify as urgent; unsolicited offers of “great deals” are not.
Credit card courtesy checks I frequently receive courtesy checks, proclaiming that I can now pay my bills with a “convenient” check. How kind of the credit card company to provide such a convenience (at such a low rate)! I never would have thought of writing a check (for free) to draw on the money I have in the bank. (I wonder if they would accept one of their own checks as payment on their bills?)
Offer for a home equity loan presented to people signing mortgage papers. I only encountered this marketing ploy once, but I was offended by the timing. I thought, “We just took out the biggest loan I ever want to see, probably stretching us financially a bit too much, and you think we want to go further into debt? We saved a long time to pay for a small portion of this house – why would we want to give up even that portion?”
I know that advertisers need to constantly find new ways to get consumers’ attention, and many of these advertising approaches are just slight modifications of tried and true methods, but I wonder whether some of the advertisers consider the underlying messages they send. If I believed everything they tell me, not only would I be broke, but I would see myself as unintelligent, unable to evaluate my own needs or the quality of an offer, overly concerned about gaining popularity and prestige, and willing to pay exorbitant amounts of money to save a little time even when I have nothing more important to do than read “urgent” offers that come in the mail.
Image courtesy of Todd Ehlers