Lying, cheating, TV ad scamming bastards!

I want to start this rant by saying I think most people in the direct marketing business are honest people. Most ads in most media adhere to most of the ethical principles of the Direct Marketing Association. And in working with more than 200 clients in a variety of industries, and getting calls from thousands of potential clients, I’ve run into only a handful of cheats.

That said, I’m angered that so many of the direct response TV ads I see are dishonest. I used to be a television commercial producer in a former life and this medium is near and dear to my heart. There are certainly scams in just about every medium, but as a TV and movie fan, I can’t seem to escape the ones I see on the tube.

What sort of scams are we talking about? Here are a few of the most popular:

This only scratches the surface. There are many, many more scams.

What you need to understand about direct response TV is that it’s a rough business. Only a handful of products will sell via TV commercials. And only about one in 20 tested products succeed. Even if a product is successful, it often has a short lifespan of a few months because of quick market saturation or fast and powerful competition by those who want to ride the coattails of a profitable idea. Worse, the economics of TV products requires a profit margin of about 500%, so that $25 widget can only cost $5 to manufacture.

All of this leads people who might otherwise do honest business to use hardball tactics to turn a profit.

How do companies selling on TV get away with these scams? Simple. They know most products will fail. But when that one magic product comes along, it will earn them millions, often tens of millions of dollars. This is the product that will likely attract attention from regulators. So when the lawsuits hit and the fines come down, they write a check. It’s just part of the operating cost.

Now let me say again. Most direct marketers and many, many TV advertisers are upstanding business people selling good stuff people want. People like Ron Popeil have made massive fortunes selling innovative products with sometimes surprisingly high quality.

But the scams persist. And it makes everyone else in the direct marketing industry look bad. Worse, it often seems like regulators are far more concerned about wardrobe malfunctions or celebrities with a potty mouth than actual lawbreaking.

The one satisfaction I have is that some of the people getting ripped off deserve it. If you think you can look like a model without hard exercise … or make a million dollars in three days sitting at home in your underwear … or get free products for the next 30 years by the good graces of a friendly company … you’re a sucker. You have a lesson coming to you.

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7 Responses to “Lying, cheating, TV ad scamming bastards!”

  1. Brian Clark on February 1st, 2008 12:36 pm

    This was a lot of fun to read, because I also pay attention to and shake my head at the scammers. It just amazes me that these people have no shame… it gets to the point that I feel like I’m doing something wrong by being honest.

    But then I get over it.

  2. Dean Rieck on February 1st, 2008 1:49 pm

    Brian: Yeah, I hate the scams. But watching them is like a sport. I play “guess the trick” as I watch TV. And since I’m a night owl and work evenings on my laptop in front of a 52″ plasma, I see all the infomercials on late night.

  3. Roberta Rosenberg on February 3rd, 2008 5:41 pm

    You mean I can’t simply think myself thin? BUT IT SAID SO ON TV!

    It’s stuff like this that still has people backing away from me at parties when I tell them what I do for a living.

  4. Ted Grigg on February 4th, 2008 7:27 pm

    You’re so right on here Dean. We need to be concerned about this because it degrades the medium.

    When you think about it though, all channels suffer with the same virus. Look at spam and it’s impact on the whole email marketing channel. The same holds true for radio and print.

    Only direct mail and telemarketing (outbound) seem to escape somewhat in my opinion because of the high cost of entry and/or effective regulation. Unfortunately, there is still abuse in these channels as well.

    The real challenge for direct mail is that bad behavior prompts harmful overregulation.

    Thanks for the great post.


  5. Dean Rieck on February 4th, 2008 9:15 pm

    Ted: Sure. Every medium has its scammers, but I wouldn’t excuse direct mail or telemarketing. They’re just more targeted and thus more hidden from general view.

    In direct mail, think about those faux bills you get that are really subscription solicitations.

  6. Ted Grigg on February 4th, 2008 10:32 pm

    Yep. You got me on that one Dean.

    I still think that is rather tame when compared to TV. But I see your point.

  7. Clarence on March 8th, 2010 12:53 pm

    It’s not actually my practice to post comments, but I thought I would say that this was outstanding.

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