10 Surprising Marketing Tricks You Should Be Aware Of
As an advertising professional, I get exasperated by the use of deceptive language and product claims that are misleading. From ambiguous wording, to modern examples of snake oil, here are 10 things you should know before spending your hard-earned money.
1. Excedrin — Many Names, One Product
You’ll see this not just with Excedrin, but with a multitude of products in the pharmacy section. Why sell just one product when you can repackage it many different ways and grab more of the market share? In this case, Excedrin Extra Strength, Excedrin Migraine, and Excedrin Menstrual Complete all contain exactly the same ingredients, at the same strengths. Buy one; you’ve got them all.
By the way, this also goes for Tylenol Simply Sleep, Benadryl, and generic allergy meds. The only difference is the price and the packaging. (See also: Market Clones: How to Pay Drastically Less for Pricey Products)
2. Beware of "Organic" Eggs
As we all try to do our bit to encourage better food production practices, we often spend a little bit more on eggs to ensure they’re organic and also cage free. But some of those labels are misleading. In one recent case, the 36,000 hens at Chino Valley Ranchers produced eggs for a variety of different labels, ranging from Walmart’s Great Value label to Eggland’s Best and Horizon Organic. The same eggs were repackaged and the prices varied depending on package and destination, but not the treatment of the hens.
3. Chocolate and Champagne Diamonds Are Usually Poor-Quality
Here’s another example of an already scandalous industry trying to make even more money from something that has little worth. It’s no secret that the diamond industry hordes diamonds to keep the prices artificially exorbitant. But now, there’s a new scam. Although there are genuine brown diamonds out there, the vast majority are dusty, cloudy, poor-quality diamonds that have been exposed to radiation, turning them brown. You wouldn’t want these "gems" anywhere near your rings and necklaces, but they have been rebranded as "chocolate" or "champagne" and their prices marked up accordingly. Avoid them.
4. Subway's "Cold Cut Combo" Is All Turkey
Strange but true. Even the Subway menu has it in writing, saying, "The Cold Cut Combo is stacked with turkey-based meats — ham, salami, and bologna." Now, call me old-fashioned, but I always thought ham was made from, well, ham. This is not the case at Subway. Salami and bologna, I was willing to accept that they would be a mixture of different meats. But ham? Even the term "Cold Cut Combo" implies a selection of different meats.
5. Jose Cuervo "Especial" Isn’t Special
If I sold you a cashmere sweater, and you discovered it was made with 51% cashmere and 49% cotton, how would you feel? If I sold you a diamond necklace, and you later found out only 51% of the diamonds were real, would you be annoyed? Well, this is the same deal with Jose Cuervo Especial. The law states that you can label a drink Tequila if it has at least 51% agave. And Jose Cuervo Especial meets that bare minimum. The rest is fermented from other less expensive sugars. Ironically, it’s the most popular brand of Tequila, due to price and some very smart branding. But if you want the real deal, stay away from Especial, and go with their Tradicional and Reserva De La Familia varieties. Better yet, buy a bottle of triple distilled Corralejo Reposado. It’s under $50 a bottle and tastes divine.
6. You Cannot Name a Star
It’s a nice idea, right? To name a star after a loved one as a birthday present or anniversary gift? And there are plenty of sites out there that will let you name a star for as little as $20. They’ll even send you a frameable certificate and a picture of your newly named star.
Those names are not recognized by anyone outside of the company you paid. Only the International Astronomical Union assigns names to stars, and usually they are a long string of numbers containing the precise coordinates of the star. So, if someone gives you a "star" as a gift, you can smile and say thanks, but just know it means absolutely nothing.
7. Certified Angus Beef May Not Be All That
This is another example of the power of marketing.
In 1978, the American Angus Association coined the term "Certified Angus Beef" as a way to promote Angus as a higher quality beef than other cattle breeds. And now it’s seen as a label of real quality. But the major control method used to determine this Angus "quality" is that the meat comes from a cow with at least 51% black hide. There are other control methods, too, but many butchers will tell you that you won’t be able to taste the difference between regular beef and Certified Angus Beef. If you want quality, look for the USDA Prime label. But note, only 2 to 3% of all beef can receive that high grade.
8. Power Balance Bracelets Do Absolutely Nothing
Well, let me rephrase that. They make money for the companies selling them. And they take money from the poor suckers who believe the hype. But other than that, they are just silly pieces of silicone and plastic that do not contain any special powers at all.
It’s all about the power of suggestion and the placebo affect. If you think you’re getting some benefit from one, it’s because you think it’s working. Mark Cuban famously trashed the stock of power balance bracelets in the NBA dressing room. Oh, and the makers settled a $57 million lawsuit because they had to admit the product does not do what it claims. Still, they continue to be sold on sites like Amazon, so please, avoid them.
9. 73% of Doctors Do NOT Recommend 5-Hour Energy
Have you seen the 5-Hour Energy ad that shows a woman sitting next to a massive pile of papers? There are some incredible claims made in that ad, but this is a classic example of the power of words and the way in which they can be manipulated. It would take a long time to explain it all, and other outlets (Forbes, BrandFailure, BlenderLaw) have dug into the ad in detail. In a nutshell, the ad claims that "73% of doctors who reviewed 5-Hour Energy said they would recommend a low calorie energy supplement to their healthy patients who use energy supplements." It’s garbage. It’s deceptive. And it’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.
Doctors are not recommending this product; they are saying that healthy people who are already taking energy supplements should take a low-calorie version. It’s unbelievable that this ad even aired, and as someone who works in advertising, I’m ashamed of this kind of misleading rubbish. Not only that, but 5-Hour Energy has been linked to a number of deaths. Having this ad out there, linking it to doctors, is beyond irresponsible.
10. Vitamin Water Should Really Be Called Sugar Water
This is another example of blatantly deceptive language in an attempt to cash in on many consumers' desire to eat healthy and stay fit.
You’d think a product like Vitamin Water would be a healthy one, but once again it is marketing at work. The two main ingredients in the drink are water and fructose. And while the label states there are only 13 grams of sugar, there is deception at work yet again. Why? Because there are 2.5 servings in a bottle of Vitamin Water! That means a bottle contains 32.5 grams of sugar, which puts it up there with most sugary soft drinks. As for the vitamins in the bottle, they are in there, but they’re trace amounts of synthetic vitamins. The greater danger here is that because of the deceptive language, people are chugging these bottles of "healthy" water without realizing that they’re as bad for them as a bottle of Coke or Pepsi. Even Coca-Cola’s lawyers (Coca-Cola produces Vitamin Water) say that it’s not a healthy beverage! Don’t buy into the hype. Drink water, preferably from the faucet.
How have you protected your wallet by avoiding misleading marketing or outright scams?