Marketing - Deceptive Practices

DECEPTIVE MARKETING PRACTICES and ETHICAL ISSUES Background and History of the Issue: The history of advertising regulations goes back only to the early 20th century because prior to that, little regulation existed even with respect to the actual products marketed for sale, let alone the truthfulness of marketing statements about those products.

Before World War I, Coca Cola actually contained small quantities of the drug cocaine, as did myriad so called "elixirs" and "tonics" promising to cure disease (Friedman 2005).

Regulation of products evolved slowly and standards defining deception in advertising permitted numerous advertising campaigns and messages that are shocking in light of contemporary ethical standards and legal obligations. Subliminal messaging (which was never actually proven to work as intended) was prohibited relatively early on, but many other forms of creative advertising copy took tremendous liberties with the spirit of honesty by carefully complying with the literal truth (Howard 2005). For example, the famous Trident sugarless chewing gum commercial of the 1960s reassured TV viewers that "Four out of five dentists recommend Trident for their patients who chew gum."

Deceptive Advertising and Marketing Practices:

The Trident slogan may actually be completely true but its purpose is to suggest that dentist recommend that their patients chew Trident gum. In that sense the concept of deception is much broader than merely issuing untrue statements. Given the demonstrable power of advertising media, such a broad definition of deception is likely appropriate (Belch & Belch 1998).

The tremendous advances in communications technology and the sophistication of advertising techniques has, despite tighter regulation in many respects, lead to the creation of a new level of deceptive advertising approaches that are not yet adequately addressed by formal legislation or voluntary ethical industry standards. Late night TV is the world where hour-long "infomercials" deliberately disguised as talk shows pretend to "interview" guests who are not guests but advertisers. Great care is taken to ensure that the scripts are devoid of any literal untruths to comply with the law, all within a program whose exclusive purpose is not to "inform," but to deceive (Lightsey 2006).

Newspaper classified ads routinely solicit female models and hopeful actresses who have naturally beautiful skin to audition for infomercials designed to sell facial rejuvenating products. The purpose of using models pre-selected specifically for their naturally beautiful skin is, by definition, to deceive viewers into believing that their youthful clear complexion is attributable to the product when, in truth, it is mainly due to genetics (Howard 2005).

Meanwhile, to satisfy legal requirements of truthfulness, the actresses selected for their good skin must actually use the product prior to taping the commercial so that their statements about having used it are not untrue. There is no legal requirement to disclose that the models discussing how much they liked the product never even heard of the product before responding to a classified ad titled "Wanted: Models with Beautiful Skin for Product Infomercial."

The process is even more deceptive when it comes to selecting the models for weight loss and muscle building products. In the 1970s, Casey Viator was a well-known body builder who was a contemporary of the eventual Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the 1980s, Viator was one of the most used models for various muscle building products that never even existed when he built his impressive physique training up to 6 hours a day, 6 days a week. The marketing campaigns featured a pudgy, overweight "before" picture of a pale, out-of-shape, overweight Viator; predictably, the "after" picture next to it displayed an extremely muscular, tanned Viator after 2 months…