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Marketing and Con Games

The list of marketing ploys is unending. People should become familiar with as many of them as possible, and hopefully in the process become so used to the fact that marketing is deceptive that they learn to essentially ignore the constant manipulation that is typical in this area.

"How are you today, Mr. Smith?"

Most telemarketers start with this line once they have established who they are talking to. Among friends this is a friendly greeting and possible conversation starter. With marketers, it is a scripted attempt to make the call seem less impersonal so selling you something will be easier. It would be more honest to say "Hello, I'm selling light bulbs. Is that something you'd be interested in buying?"

The personal touch

An envelope arrived from a political organization with my address hastily hand printed by a hard-working volunteer. At least that's what I was supposed to think. Actually the printing was a computer font made to look like hand printing. Apparently they hope I will give more to an organization that uses human workers than I would to a highly automated impersonal operation.

My wife got a mailing with a genuinely hand written address and a hand written Post-it note stuck on the printed pages inside saying "I thought this would interest you - it worked for me! Mary". Of course this is not anybody we know, but apparently an attempt to trick us into thinking a forgotten friend had sent it.  I'll bet just about everybody knows somebody name "Mary".

"We have a special offer"

Businesses like to create the impression that buying from them right now will save you money or get you more than usual. The trouble is, the "special" is more the rule than the exception, so you are really only getting the normal price.

"Save 33% over the list price."

There are many products (most products?) where the list price is considerably inflated over what the manufacturer expects anyone to charge. I have seen a "discount" store offer products (diskettes) with the claim of a big saving, only to find the high priced specialty store in the mall is charging even less, and not advertising it as a sale.

"You have to act quickly or lose this great opportunity"

This is a favorite saying of realtors and other sales people, who want you to close a deal without using up more of their time or perhaps not buying from them at all. The chances for a good deal are just as good tomorrow as today, although it may be a different good deal.

"You're smart if you do, a fool if you don't"

The high-pressure sales person will start with flattery, and try to convince you that smart people like you will go for their deal. When they get more desperate they start talking about how foolish you would be not to buy. We have to keep in mind that these people will say whatever they have to say to make the sale.  What they say probably has little to do with their actual opinion.

"You owe it to me"

Sales people love to do you some minor favor so you'll feel indebted to them. They will use any ploy imaginable to make you feel guilty if you don't buy their product. This is not a situation where you have to be polite.

"You're a friend, not a client"

Assume you're a client. The reason they want you to think of them as a friend is so you'll do what they say.

"Dealer limit 3"

This was in an ad for a sale on vacuum cleaners.  The seller wants you to get the impression that the sale is so good that other dealers would find it better than their normal wholesale suppliers and would buy out the stock if not limited to purchasing three. Of course that's not true, but the seller would like you to think so.

Who's representing the buyer?

In real estate, the buyer usually has a realtor and so does the seller. Both realtors are more interested in closing the deal than in risking the deal to get a slightly higher commission. The buyer's realtor tries to get the buyer to pay more, but the seller's realtor tries to get the seller to ask less. Neither is willing to risk losing a commission to get their client a better deal. It is not wise to assume your realtor is representing your best interests.

The pressure ploy

When I was selling my house, I got a call from my realtor, Phil, saying he had a buyer. Phil said he would come by the next morning to present the offer. He wouldn't tell me the offer that night over the phone. Since he was the experienced realtor and I had never sold a house before, I played the game his way. The next morning he presented the offer (lower than we thought we should get) and said the buyer had to have a response right away since he was leaving town. Phil could have told me the amount the night before, but he wanted me to have my back to the wall. I realized later that the proper response to a tactic like this is to tell Phil the night before that he had better tell me the amount or he could forget about being my realtor. He was not in a position to refuse.

Don't assume the law will protect you

Just because the law says the advertising must be true, don't assume it is, especially if the advertiser isn't widely known. Just because the law says the odometer of the used car you're buying shouldn't be turned back, don't assume it wasn't. People break the law much more often than they get caught.

Never pay a stranger

For a confidence game to cheat you, you must give money (or a credit card number) to somebody you don't know. Never give money or personal information to strangers who approach you. Be aware that identification can be faked. Some con artists pose as undercover police officers, bank employees, long lost relatives, etc..

Did you approach him or did he approach you?

Most people are honest. If you pick a person at random, the chances are good that they are honest. If a person comes up to you, however, the chances are much less that they are honest, especially if some arrangement involving your money is involved. People who have been operating out of a fixed location for a long time (like a store) are less likely to cheat people than those in temporary quarters or on the street, simply because they have more to lose if they are dishonest. In addition, you can find them if there is a problem.

Please fake this customer satisfaction survey

When I took my car to the dealer for servicing, the man who handled the paperwork told me I might get a satisfaction survey to fill out.  He said their department had a policy that any reply other than "exceptional" was considered a "fail" for him.  I had been told this before by others who worked there, so obviously management had told these people to plead for exceptional ratings.  The job he did was routine, so there would be nothing "exceptional" about doing it perfectly.  Apparently they'd like us to think the company is very demanding that they're employees be exceptional, or they'd like to use their high percentage of exceptional ratings in their advertising.  The message I get from them is that they regard their customers as people to be manipulated.