Lies in Marketing

I’m really writing this for someone in my life that constantly complains about the amount of “junk mail” received (email or snail mail), yet when a favorite company has a “Daily Sweepstakes”, enters immediately. Every time it happens, I die a little inside. The exact thing that is being complained about is being fed by the contest entry.

It’s annoying. Lots of clutter. Lots of trash. Privacy. Most people really don’t know how their information is used and they trust companies.

Unfortunately, lots of big companies hire ad firms/agencies who are extremely cutthroat and are under immense pressure from the aforementioned big company that they’ll do just about anything to get more leads/sales. Including share the information between clients.

Show me the money!

It’s important to understand the “why” behind all of this. Always follow the money. Personal information has a quantifiable dollar value. The more detailed information, the more valuable.

For example, I have 1,000,000 email addresses.

50% of them don’t get delivered. Now I have 500,000 email addresses.
10% of those are opened. Now I have 50,000 email addresses.
10% of those click a link to a website. Now I have 5,000 email addresses.
5% of those make a purchase for varying dollar amounts. Now I have $50,000 revenue. Eventually that may be $15,000 profit.
Revenue per e-mail address: $0.05. (or $0.01 profit per email address)
There are fixed costs to send the campaign, but companies will find a break even point and also calculate target profit. (Hint: Variable cost per unit = email addresses. Fixed cost = A number you think to send an email campaign.)

This works across the board and sometimes it can scale (1,000,000 email addresses = PROFIT, therefore 2,000,000 email addresses = MOAR PROFITS!).

Now, think of a targeted mailing. Target mailings are where there specific groups of people being emailed. Think of people who have lots of disposable income (Ever wonder why your household income is asked when you register for some sites?) and live within 50 miles of a lake. It makes perfect financial sense for a wakeboard company to spend money targeting those kinds of consumers.

1,000,000 email addresses of consumers, but we know that they make >$100K a year, are male and live within 50 miles of a lake

With the same percentage returns from the earlier example, that $0.05 revenue per email address can go way up. So will the profit per email address.

Lies, damned lies, and marketing calls to action

Information Honeypots are just veiled lies to get your personal information. The best way to attract bees is with a honeypot. There is unlikely benefit to the consumer and much more likely benefit to the companies.

Calls to action are ways to entice consumers to take action. Most of them are direct, like “Buy now!”…but there are many that are flat out lies. Some create a false sense urgency because agencies know if you don’t act soon, the message will be forgotten.


  • Surveys (information honeypot)
  • Contests/Giveaways (information honeypot)
  • To view, you must register (information honeypot)
  • Text ____ to Vote NOW! see AT&T and American Idol (information honeypot)
  • Order in the next 15 minutes and get _____ for free! (call to action)
  • Mail in Rebates (call to action AND information honeypot)
  • ________ Show this weekend (Boat, Bridal) (multiple information honeypots + sales pitches)
  • Newsletters (information honeypot)

I know, I’ve ranted about marketers before, but what it really boils down to is dishonesty. That’s what ticks me off.


About andyhillky
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2 Responses to Lies in Marketing

  1. adam says:

    YEP! EVERYTHING is created in attempt to somehow make money off you. Majored in advertising and some people actually wonder why I hate it so much.

  2. tim says:

    Not all marketers are created the same.

    The lies typically occur in the interruption phase, which has become progressively more difficult to succeed in. The stakes get raised every time a new medium is introduced or a new technique comes to light. Everyone imitates what is perceived as being successful and all the interruption messages collectively become noise (and ignored again).

    Marketers seek moments of your attention and the cycle of imitation compounds the level of noise. Every trip through this recursive trap means that the message has to be louder and more extreme than before. Similar to horror movies of the 70s & 80s versus the horror films of today, the gore needs to be over the top to get the same level of scare that could have been achieved with an off-camera insinuated act in 1970.

    Interruption is only one phase of marketing. And it is unfortunately a necessary evil to some degree. But, it doesn’t have to be full of lies and deceit to be useful or effective. A lot of magic has to happen in a very short period of time and most marketing teams aren’t up to the task. You have 30 seconds or less to:
    1. Capture my attention
    2. Communicate the product’s value
    3. Breakdown my brand loyalties & skepticism
    4. Motivate me to take the first step to join the conversation (URL, txt msg, visit store, call, us postal)
    It’s easy to get stuck imitating other messages and just yelling louder and lose sight of the consumer actually being a person.

    In your spam example, what you are talking about, I’m assuming, is illegal and manipulating the expected low conversion rates by blanketing the world with your ignorable message. This isn’t marketing, this is a scam pretending to be marketing.

    A random email address, even with demographic information is worth essentially nothing. People are getting more and more weary of spam, spam filters are improving and email users are slightly more savvy than a few years ago. Purchasing email lists is not real marketing either, its spam -> illegal.

    Email marketing is a beautiful thing. If the user has opted-in to receive communications from a company, is expecting a message at a given frequency with a relevant/personalized message … This is marketing. The permission to contact the user is the valuable asset, not the random address. That permission is a contract between company and consumer and it’s value is lost when transferred/sold/borrowed/etc. Marketers & companies that understand this concept and embrace it, have long-term success.

    Collecting more information, even if it is perceived as deceptive (survey, contests, registration, etc.), is not necessarily a bad thing, when this information is used to tune communication to you (that you opt-in to receive). Amazon does this every time you search on their site, purchase a product or traffic source you enter their site from. But, Amazon is using this information to refine your user experience and define more relevant product suggestions for your future visits, which the user perceives as a value.

    There are fine lines in marketing and in any business, there is good and bad in both. If I am a car salesman and I sell you a new Toyota Camry, I’m going to call you 6 months from now and ask you how everything is going with the car I sold you. You may ignore the gesture, but some people may say, “You know, it’s just not big enough for our family” and now you have the opportunity to sell this family another car, meeting their needs and solving their problems, while making yourself more profit. That follow-up phone call was a dual purpose and potentially deceptive marketing effort, but not negatively so. If they had said “Everything is great”, I would call them back in a year (or maybe send them a hand written letter in the mail).

    Not all marketers are there to trick you into giving them $. There is a lot more $ to be made by cultivating a loyal customer base that trusts you. Otherwise, you are perpetually stuck in the interruption phase (a.k.a. hell) like the dude in the mall holding out a tube of lotion asking you “Can ask you a question?”.

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