4 Ways to Tell Your Customer She's Stupid

Last Updated Oct 3, 2011 2:32 PM EDT


Is the average customer clueless, gullible, or even downright dumb? You'd think so, by some of the ways businesses market their wares. Here are four common and senseless claims companies use to make their products scream at customers -- without telling them anything:

Misleading technical jargon: Spurious specs run rampant in the electronics industry. Manufacturers advertise misleading, impossible-to compare figures, often signifying nothing but the latest way to bait the dim-witted buyer. For example, ever fallen for a TV screen with "dynamic contrast ratio"?

And it's gone beyond gadgets. Scope mouthwash has "outlast technology that binds tightly to select receptors in the mouth." Puh-lease! Any time a food, liquid, or powder uses the word "technology," we all get just a little dumber.

"20% more (of something without a clear benefit)": Does a sunburst graphic touting an increased number of bubbles really make someone believe that a spray cleans better? And what exactly do statements like "now with more chocolaty/crunchy/gooey goodness" mean?

"Compare to the leading brand": Compare what? Price? Weight, Color? What is the leading brand, anyway? A "compare" statement with no explanation or context tells the customer nothing and avoids accountability. It's just a subliminal/suggestive technique intended to make us dunces assume it must be better.

"New packaging!": The photo above is a pack of gum touting its "Fab New Pack Design!" I laughed out loud when I saw it. I don't even know what the Fab OLD Pack Design was, and I don't care. The cool teeny-boppers to whom it's presumably targeted might think the packaging itself is cool. If they do, that's good, legit marketing. But telling them it's cool? That's just dumb.

In the graphics world, sunbursts and similar pop-out design elements are called "violators," because they break up the continuity and style of the layout. When they shout about Fab New Packaging, the term takes on new meaning.

Unless the new packaging offers -- and explains -- a real benefit (easier to open, fully recyclable, stays fresher longer), no one cares about the announcement. NO ONE. Except maybe the expensive ad agency, designers, marketing managers and packaging makers who want to show off their new baby. By definition, good packaging should sell itself. In the words of comedian Russell Brand, "having to tell someone you're famous sort of takes the edge off."

Hyperbole and flash (often over substance) have always been a part of advertising and marketing, and always will be. Food claims are traditionally among the worst offenders, but in an era of impression overload and nearly limitless choices, more and more products seem to be desperately begging for attention with empty promises.

Product packaging and other marketing materials are called "real estate" for a reason -- you have limited space, and even less time, to get a customer's attention, keep it long enough for her to look further, and then give her one or more reasons to buy. Using that real estate to make a meaningless, context- and benefit-free statement is pointless, wasteful, and often insulting to the buyer's intelligence.

Are you wasting precious time, space and money telling your customers nothing and treating them like idiots? Before you put your next big pronouncement on a package, flier, or website ask yourself:

1. Is there a genuine benefit and will the customer know it?
2. Is it honest and believable, or is it BS?
3. Can it be objectively compared to competition?
4. Inevitably, and most importantly, is it likely to influence a buying decision?

If your product and marketing pass this test, brag away. If not, you may -- whether you mean to or not -- be assuming your customer is stupid.

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    Michael is an entrepreneur who has launched businesses including Skooba Design and Hotdog Yoga Gear travel bag brands, as well as Journeyware Travel Outfitters. Michael sold his company in 2014 and is now focused on writing, speaking and consulting. Learn more about his ventures at www.businesswithclass.com.

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