Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Marketers Have Always Been Liars

Part 3 of a 3-part series on business strategy.

An old business saying, Mercator told readers of the May 1893 edition of Saddlery and Harness, goes, “Get money honestly if you can, but get money.”

It's an adage that can lead businessmen to lie.

But is it okay to tell customers a lie?

Mercator says, yes, in two instances.

First, it's okay to use "elastic terms of quality."

"In strict truth, only the best that can be made should be styled best," he writes, "yet we find in the bridle trade several qualities better, bearing such distinctions as best best, super, extra super, and so on. Here, though there is a departure from the truth, it is so well understood by the buyer that there is no deception, and therefore no dishonesty."

Second, it's okay to display “pretenses as to home manufacture.”

“Nowadays," Mercator writes, "the still so-called boot and shoe maker is only a seller or distributor, and in most cases sends even his repairs out, not needing to employ any workmen on his own premises. The same remarks apply to the soi distant watch and clock makers, whose only occupation is cleaning, not one in a thousand being able to make a watch or clock is it were to save his life.”

So it's okay to imply that you make what you sell, Mercator says—provided customers aren't deceived.

“There certainly are degrees of deviation from the strict truth which commercial customs almost compel everyone to conform to, and so long as the buyer well understands these things, and is in no sense deceived thereby, there is no dishonesty in practice.”

But stray afield of these claims, and you run the risk of discovery.

"The false pretense, although so common in so many trades, is always to be deplored, since it sometimes leads to false representation and untruth," Mercator writes.

"Where, as in the case of the so-called bootmaker, everyone knows the truth, no harm is done, but whenever a buyer is deliberately deceived and hoodwinked, then it amounts to dishonorable dealing. In all these matters the old Latin proverb should be borne in mind—Magna est veritas et praevalebit—the truth is great and will prevail."

Sound a tad quaint?

On his blog, Seth Godin writes, "When you are busy telling stories to people who want to hear them, you’ll be tempted to tell stories that just don’t hold up. Lies. Deceptions.

"This sort of storytelling used to work pretty well. Joe McCarthy became famous while lying about the 'Communist threat.' Bottled water companies made billions while lying about the purity of their product compared to tap water in the developed world.

"The thing is, lying doesn’t pay off any more. That’s because when you fabricate a story that just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, you get caught. Fast."
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