I have to admit, there are times I don't blame them. Every day, I see marketing practices that make me wince.
Not all. Marketing, like any discipline, can be used for good or bad, and for purposes landing in-between. Clearly at the end labeled "good" are campaigns urging people not to smoke. I'd also say that keeping the economy going—within reason—is a good thing. Honestly promoting product benefits so that consumers make informed choices is a good thing, too. Plus, evidence shows that international trade, which marketing fuels, is the best war-prevention program humanity has ever devised.
We might argue over where on the continuum to place marketing that urges people to buy what they don't need, to choose the more costly brand, or to replace a car, cell phone or wardrobe when the old one still serves.
But some marketing activities land clearly at the polarity marked BAD. Shall I list a few?
• Health products, claims and treatments that don't work. They hurt people by inflicting direct harm, or by lulling them from seeking real treatment for a serious condition. These include homeopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture, wrist magnets, most so-called "alternative" medical preparations (you know, the ones that "Big Pharma" and "Big Medicine" supposedly "don't want you to know about"), faith healing, misinformation spread by the likes of Kevin Trudeau, Suzanne Sommers and Jenny McCarthy.
• Products that don't work and can hurt people financially. Examples include: nonsense from the likes of (once again) Kevin Trudeau (he gets around), stock market prediction books and software, carefully worded (so as to be legal, yet still deceptive) investment schemes, most multi-level marketing schemes.
• Products that are pure flimflam, like psychic hotlines and religious scams.
• Carefully worded claims defended by bogus studies. As I've written elsewhere, I can cook up a study showing that hiring the RESPONSE Agency lowers your risk of cancer.
• Clintonian lies, defined as "technically accurate but designed to mislead." Examples: A recent promotion for new cars for just $88 down and $88 per month. Yeah, right, as long as you don't read the small type. After three months, the payments rocket up to cover what you didn't pay during that time, and to cost you a good deal more than market rates. Or weight loss products which, in the small type, tell you that their claims are "not typical" and that they only work when you diet and exercise (which means the product is moot). Or, until recently, credit card issuers that took you unawares with default rates and other abuses. Or, so-called free samples given only after you surrender a credit card number, later to find you're getting and being billed for shipments after the free one.
• Out-and-out lying. Going out of business! The world's best! Never undersold!
• Making things look better than they really are. Gray area here, I admit. But we all know what it’s like to make a purchase only to find that the product isn’t what was conveyed. Marketers who do that don’t do it by accident.
What have I left out? Readers, please click COMMENTS (above) and add your own. And, please reward honest marketers with your business, and withhold it from those who abuse your trust.
Marketers, there are plenty of worthy products and causes out there to focus our talents on. Let's not stoop.