Spencers Pulomic Elixir

“100% Guaranteed!”

“Make $1 Million in 10 Days!”

“Instantly Cures Baldness”

These promises in advertising have been around for …well… as long as there have been snake oil salesmen.

Most don’t buy into it. Of course, if you don’t know the claims an ad makes are too far fetched to be true, you might buy it in the hope it will solve your problem. Hence, the 1800s saw a proliferation of magical, cure-all elixirs and inventions:

Nose Shaper Ad and Reduce Flesh Ad
As the public wised up, these not-so-miraculously performing concoctions began to disappear. That isn’t to say, however, that they vanished entirely. For the most part, they just take on new form as the years pass. After all, Camel cigarettes were all the rage for you in the 1950s:

Camel's Cigarettes Ad
Even doctors would endorse the ‘benefits’ of a specific brand back then. And today folks still buy into miracle pills for fast weight loss:

Weight Loss Ad
My very good friend, Photoshop, has made miraculous transformations: wiping away folks’ wrinkles; adding a bit more hair; lengthening eye lashes…. And from time to time it’s been called upon to repair defects in clients’ products; to create additional product colors when only a one-color prototype is available; and to spruce up an otherwise slightly drab picture.

But I draw the line at misleading the public.

“California Grand Who?”

Last week, the bloggosphere was all a-twitter (per se) over Sea Smoke’s new wine label, purporting its wine a “California Grand Cru.” The outrage swelled over at Tom Wark’s Fermentationblog in the comments section, where many wine industry insiders were appalled at the audaciousness of this claim.

(If you prefer to merely enjoy a glass of wine from time to time but don’t follow the industry, what goes on a wine label is heavily regulated. You can’t say a bottle contains “Chardonnay” if it doesn’t contain a certain amount of it. And you can’t say it’s from Sonoma or Napa if it isn’t.)

In the U.S. (unlike France) there is no “Grand Cru” designation (let alone one for California). It doesn’t appear (until recently, it seems) on U.S. wine labels. Using this term can perplex the consumer since the term is highly regulated in France and heavily used there on its wine bottles (which make their way to our shores). Thus, confusion will ensue.

Now, I won’t bore you here with all the details in this fracas since you may not care about Sea Smoke’s wordplay one hoot. But you probably do care when you see an advertisement that promises something you believe they can’t guarantee.

It starts with “100% Guaranteed” or as is commonly advertised on the internet and small signs around town: “Make $8000/month from your home!” You get the drift.

Your response: “Yeah, right!” followed by a well-timed snort of disdain.

Marketers Are Not Shysters

I’ve been lucky overall. I attract ‘the right kind of clients’ who don’t ask me to make bold-faced lies about their products and services. (I have had a few former employers, however, who have asked me to do things bordering on illegal!)

While it is my job as your marketing consultant to make your products or services look their very best in the public’s eye, I will not make up promises the product can’t deliver. I will not guarantee your service will solve world hunger (or the world’s economic problems) just to make the sale.

As David Ogilvy (godfather of American advertising) once said:  “The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife.” Or perhaps better for the 21st century: “Don’t try to pull the wool over the consumer’s eyes; she’s not stupid.”

My goal is to get you lots of long-term loyal customers. Loyal customers do not like tricks. And you can’t do that if you go for the short-term gain by jerking around clients for a quick buck. (Netflix executives, please, pay attention!)

As a business owner, it is far more worthwhile to under-promise and over-deliver than it is to do the reverse. (Again, Netflix is currently down 800,000 loyal customers from six months ago. Ahem!)

Sex, Lies and SEO

Viagra. It needs no marketing whatsoever. It sells itself. The public is absolutely crystal clear on what this product will do for them.

“But my product doesn’t have the same…results…and perception by the public,” you say, protesting with arms waving madly. “If my product isn’t the next best thing to…Viagra…don’t I need to…’inflate’ its advantages in order to make the sale?”

‘Inflate’ can be quite a gray area of description. First, let me ask you this: How do you react when you see product or service descriptions like this:

  • “Best on the market…”
  • “Great service…”
  • “Most comprehensive features…”

Are you going, “Meh!”

Me too!

It’s garbage copy writing.

It pisses me off and turns me off the product. “Do they think I’m dumb or something to fall for that load of crap?”

As a marketer, I walk a fine line between granting client requests, begging me to include a phrase like the above, and putting my foot down as gently as possible (because it’s unwise to make such broad claims).

You’re always better off being very specific about what your product or services does: What are the results you get with it?

“Great service!” or “The most features” says absolutely zip about your product. It says, “I need to fill this space in the brochure,” or “My product does more than everyone else’s does,” which is to say, “Bullsh*t!” It’s meaningless.

Want to make an impact your prospect will remember? Then say, “We give great service because we do _______, which will make you feel _______!” That’s specific! And you still got to tout your wonderful service.

Promises, Promises…

In the last heading I promised something about “SEO” (Search Engine Optimization). I had to because it made the play on the name “Sex, Lies and Videotape” work. But it took me awhile to get to this explanation.

Watch out for the current snake oil salesmen. If it sounds too good to be turn, then it is!

I’ve had more than one customer ask me about another firm’s guarantee for ‘X number of new customers,’ or ‘$XXX amount of revenue,’ or guaranteed first page placement for organic Google search results. I’ve patiently explained the ‘if it sounds too good to be true…’ response more than once.

Now, pay attention: SEO guarantees are a fallacy!

Let me say it again: No one can guarantee you you’ll be on the first page’s results!


Because Google is constantly ferreting out all the SEO experts’ gaming of the system. Then they change the Google algorithm so it can’t be gamed.

This is just one example of the current trend in Viagra-like panaceas. (Even Viagra has its side effects!)

Other current ‘go-for-the-short-term-profits’ gimmicks include those “Earn $8000/month from home” businesses. Or, as a business owner, perhaps you’ve been tempted by those, “Get my program for $199, and if you follow the steps exactly, you’ll increase your revenues by 500% in 2 months!”

Altogether now:  … “BULLSH*T!”

Do The Work

Is it possible you could follow the bouncing ball and actually see your revenues rise that much? Of course, anything’s possible. But here’s why I don’t make those claims:

  • Every business is different.
  • Every owner is different.
  • All your clients are different from mine.

Did I just make it all seem way too hard now – as if there’s no road map out there at all? Let me put some fears to rest.

If everyone was so completely different from the next guy (pretend that’s YOU), we’d have complete and utter chaos in the world. (I heard that snickering under your breath!) So, yes, most of us have a lot of similar characteristics. Our behavior is somewhat predictable. Therefore, we know that if you follow some steps in some businesses, you can be reasonably sure of success. …But you can’t guarantee it.

What I do know is there is no shortcut. None of the ‘do-these-steps-exactly-to-raise-revenues-500%’ programs are cookie cutter processes. They require an enormous amount of hard work on your part to think through problems and plan the results. No snoozing while you wait for Price Charming to kiss your business back into life!

Promises You Can Keep

I can promise my clients I’ll work my tail feathers off to grow their businesses. I will research their market in detail. I will review the most likely marketing strategies to see if they hold the best bang for the buck for that specific client. No cookie cutter work here.

Sure, I’ve got my own toolbox of writing ‘drills’ and graphic ‘hammers’ to apply to my clients’ different businesses. And that means the ‘artwork’ I construct for you is completely different than what I make for the next guy.

But I can also tell you that it’s a two-way street. I can’t research my client’s market if I don’t get details and feedback from you. If a client doesn’t supply basic information or feedback, I can’t create the custom marketing product she needs. So I can’t promise I’ll deliver a jillion new clients if I don’t have the basics to work with in the first place.

  • What promises can you keep to your customers?
  • Do they know that? Crystal clear?
  • Do you need to freshen up your marketing message to convey your primary brand promises?

Finally, make your product or service better. What can you add to your business to reinforce your clients’ loyalty to you?

Truth in advertising is the best way to guarantee your business will be around for the long haul.