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Misleading Ads - Have You Checked Your Credibility Quotient?

Furniture World Magazine


You may have won TEN MILLION DOLLARS!

It's that time of year. The newspapers are screaming "Sale," "Inventory Clearance," "Save Up to XX Percent," "Closeout," and "Hurry ... Offer Ends Soon!" It's getting so that you can put anyone's ad with someone else's headline, and lose nothing in the translation. How credible are your headlines, your loss-leaders, your sales strategies? Are they the same overworked, overused phrases as everybody else's, or do you really have a unique offer with special inventory to entice people to come in?

There's a store in our town that has a sale every single week. Nonstop. Nothing's ever at a regular price. It's always the "biggest sale ever," "incredible savings," "everything's reduced!" I'm waiting to see the weekend when they run an ad that says, "We're not having a sale this weekend!" That would be a surprise. And since that has never happened, the New York State Attorney General took a dim view of their business practices and fined them tens of thousands of dollars... for inflating mark-ups, then marking them down to fictitious sales prices.

American Family Publishers is ready to be tarred and feathered. Ed McMahon and Dick Clark have been telling the people who open their phony-baloney mailers that "If your name is drawn, YOU HAVE WON 10 MILLION DOLLARS! Check here if you want it in cash or certified check." Of course, the words "If your name is drawn" are so small that you'd need a 30-power magnifying glass to read them.

But the American public is catching on. And so's the FTC, the state attorneys general, the Federal courts, and the truth-in-advertising people. You can only fool your customers for so long. After a while it will destroy your business.

Credibility can be your biggest asset. It doesn't show on your financial statement. You can't write checks on it. But it might determine whether you're still selling furniture next month, next year, and in the years to come. Before you run your next sale, ask yourself if you're trying to fool your customers, or just trying to fool yourself. Don't think about whether it will get by the Better Business Bureau. Think about how your customers will feel if they think they were suckered into buying furniture through a false pretense, exaggerated claim, or some type of misrepresentation.

Just thumbing through last Sunday's paper, I saw the following sales statements:

Save $1,000 (on a $6,000 computer system). "Save" was so small, it looked like the entire system was supposed to be $1,000. It wasn't. I'm sure the people who thought they were going to buy a system for $1,000 were pretty ticked off.

Prices so low, we can't advertise them. It would only disrupt the pricing structure of the other dealers in the area. And if you believe that one... Sale prices good this weekend only! These prices will never be this low again! Maybe on Monday they will be even lower. But don't tell their customers. They'll just have to have another sale.

We sell at wholesale, below cost, and below everybody! (Just how do you think they make money to stay in business?)

And the BS goes on and on. Doesn't make any difference if it's a car dealer, furniture store, appliance retailer, or electronics dealer. On the other hand, the fallout from the mega-sale merchants has gotten exceedingly high. Nobody Beats The Wiz is gone. So are Lechmere, Franklin Furniture, Silo, and the other "too-good-to-be-true" sales blazers. When your credibility goes, you go, too. It's a fact of life. Dick Clark and Ed McMahon are learning through lawsuits. Local businesses learn by customers getting ticked and telling all their friends. The negative word-of-mouth advertising a phony sale spins off can be disastrous. The sale might be a short-term answer, but you'll have a long-term problem.

There's an easy answer. Next time you run an incredible, fantastic, last-chance-or-you'll-never-see-it-again sale, you don't need to run it by the Better Business Bureau or your local lawyer. Just ask yourself, "Is it the truth?" If it is, you have nothing to worry about. But if it has even the smallest hint of deceit, you might find yourself in the middle of a lawsuit, suffering from a loss of business, irritated customers, and a few sleepless nights.

Don't be a victim of "First I'll get money, then I'll get integrity." Just stick to some genuine truth-in-advertising elements. And think how good you'll feel when you're still selling furniture years from now.

Bob Popyk is the publisher of Creative SellingĀ®, a monthly newsletter on sales and marketing strategies for high-ticket retailers. His sales meetings and seminars are presented nationwide to major companies and industries. Questions on any aspect of sales education can be sent to FURNITURE WORLD at popyk@furninfo.com.