marketing and sales executives from Silicon Valley

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Lying or smart marketing? A personal shoe story:

My feet hurt, and I knew that comfy shoes would fix it, so I searched online for comfortable shoes and found a few. Air support, memory foam, springs - all were listed as THE solution for sore feet and an aching back. The spring technology was the most intriguing. I had seen in a few magazines, but I did not have a chance to review the details around their claims for comfort until now.

There are different spring technologies, spanning 'wave springs', special materials, and unique encapsulation processes that differentiate the 3 vendors I found with spring-based shoes. The one that caught my eye, Gravity Defyer, had a nice website, but it was difficult to find information on the technology. The website was a little difficult to navigate if you were searching for information and not in the buying mood. What really interested me was their 'clinical study' and how they were justifying their claims.

Now, I've never tried these shoes, nor do I have any reason to believe that the shoes are bad, or good for that matter, but what caught my eye was the opening paragraph of the 'clinical study'. See the quote from the clinical study link below:

This 'clinical study', if it can even be called that, does not use an independent 3rd party to collect and analyze the data. In fact, the study is actually a statistical analysis of data provided by Gravity Defyer to the analyst firm. In simple terms, if the analysis firm was sent 100 perfect ratings in 17 rating scales, they would have to state that the data showed 100 perfect ratings. The analysis was a foregone conclusion since there never was a question about the outcome of the analysis since the data and results were already known before the analysis was performed by Packer Engineering. If that's the case, what's the 'clinical' part of the study? Where's the real value to consumers in this equation?

So what's going on here? Some would argue that "clinical study", as a term of trust, was abused and that consumers would be confused. It seems to be on the wrong end of ethical language. It may even be illegal as it could mislead consumer into believing that doctors, control subjects, and proper protocols were involved.

On the other hand, it could also be savvy marketing. If the term 'clinical study' is not protected with a legal expectation, this technique could be viewed as a quick shortcut to earn trust that actually works. If there are no legal ramifications to using 'clinical study' then why not use it any time you want to appear to have a scientific advantage? It's buyer beware, right?

This seems slightly less ethical, but probably more effective than those "similar to as seen on TV" stickers you see on products. The font is so small in parts that it looks like "as seen on TV", so it's easy to mistake the product at the store for the one on late-night infomercials. Yes, before you ask, I've seen people in stores pick up the "Snuggle blanket" instead of the "Snuggie" and specifically point to the "similar to as seen on TV" sticker or printing on the box and call it a Snuggie.

If there are no policies or standards around marketing language, it can easily be used borrow goodwill or even mislead consumers and even business readers. In order to know what you're getting and possibly save yourself of headache or legal wrangling later, read the detail. There may be more to what's being said than is written in the large print.

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