Deceit

Sin #4: Deceit

The temptation to try and change consumer behavior

Deceit may be the oldest of all the ad sins.  The temptation to create events or phony sales in order to change consumers’ behavior is powerful, but fruitless. The temptation of advertisers to tie themselves to holidays, sporting events, and seasonal events is equally powerful.

The quick skinny:

  • Consumers fall into the market when they need the product. You can do little to change that.
  • Taking advantage of consumer behavior is wise, trying to change it is expensive and foolish.
  • Phony events and sales and gimmicks compromise your ability to build value long term.

Until recently, my colleague Collin used to work for one of the Big Three automakers.  He was responsible for the advertising & promotions and dealer relations in the Atlanta region for one of the major truck brands. At a meeting in April, 2011, I asked him, “Are there really more trucks sold during ‘Truck-month’ than any other month?”

His answer, “No, not really.  Sales generally rise and fall on consumer demand and economic factors.”

“So why do they have a truck month?”, I asked.

“It was just a dealer driven program to raise awareness of the product and try to maintain leadership”, he answered.

Hundreds of thousands of local dollars spent on a promotional event with little or no real effect on sales. Yet we see this time and time again.  How many “March Madness” sales, “Inventory Blow Outs”, “Super Summer Close outs”, “Tech Month”, or “Back to School” sales gimmicks have you seen in the marketplace.  Phony events, sales, and gimmicks, if they do anything at all, steal from one month to pay for another.  Moreover, spending money on an event

After lamenting that the procession of “Colors of Fall Sale”, “Memorial Day Sale”, and “Spring Celebration” sales were becoming less and less effective, my client who was the regional marketing director for a large retail paint company, expressed his frustration with his advertising. I asked him, with such a great story to tell, why they insisted on having sales so frequently.

His answer only corroborated what I knew to be true. “It was great when we first started, but we began to see our sales drop dramatically between sales”.  I felt like saying, “Actually, your advertising is working well.  You have trained your customer perfectly. She knows she can wait for your next sale and pay less.” The irony is that in the name of increasing sales, their “sales event” tactics ended up costing them more money to attract a less profitable customer.

There are some limited short-term exceptions to this sin, but in general rule, they only go to prove the rule.  As much as the interaction between the consumer and the media has changed, consumer decision making has remained largely the same.  Each customer in any given business has their own unique track, their own timetable.  Attempting to influence consumer behavior in the short-term is expensive and costly in the long run.

His answer, “No, not really.  Sales generally rise and fall on consumer demand and economic factors.”

 “So why do they have a truck month?”, I asked.

 “It was just a dealer driven program to raise awareness of the product and try to maintain leadership”, he answered.

 Hundreds of thousands of local dollars spent on an event, a promotion, with little or no real effect on sales. Yet how many “March Madness” sales, “Inventory Blow Out!”, “Super Summer Close outs”, “Tech Month” and other sales gimmicks have we seen in the marketplace.  Phony events, sales, and gimmicks, if they do anything at all, steal from one month to pay for another. 

After lamenting that the procession of “Colors of Fall Sale”, “Memorial Day Sale”, and “Spring Celebration” sales were becoming less and less effective, my client who the regional marketing director for a large retail paint company, expressed his frustration with his advertising. I asked him, with such a great story to tell, why they insisted on having sales so frequently.

His answer only corroborated what I knew to be true. “It was great when we first started, but we began to see our sales drop dramatically between sales”.  I felt like saying, “Actually, your advertising is working well.  You have trained your customer perfectly. She knows she can wait for your next sale and pay less.” The irony is that in the name of increasing sales, their “sales event” tactics ended up costing them more money to attract a less profitable customer.

There are some limited short-term exceptions to this sin, but in general rule, they only go to prove the rule.  As much as the interaction between the consumer and the media has changed, consumer decision making has remained largely the same.  Each customer in any given business has their own unique track, their own timetable.  Attempting to influence consumer behavior in the short-term can be a win, but in the long run it is expensive and costly.