Lying is still lying, even if it is in marketing

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

26 May 2009

The deep, dark secret of marketing

The airlines receive many complaints from travelers and I’m often a vocal critic, but delayed flights has to be among the most common complaints of any travel. As I’ve said here before, if you’re a frequent traveler, those delayed flights have become so commonplace you figure them into your own plans.

Well, looks like at least one airline is doing the same thing.

682771U.S. Airways has been promoting its history of “on time” flights recently and the airline is living up to that promise by – there is no other way to put it – cooking the books. Recently, I flew US Air from LaGuardia in NYC to Greensboro, N.C., where I live and work. I have taken that flight many times and know that the actual flight time is just over an hour.

Instead, US Air listed the flight time as 2:01. So, when we arrived an hour “early” in Greensboro, many passengers couldn’t believe their luck. Yet, the flight didn’t really arrive early. It arrived on time. If the flight had taken the full 2:01 as US Air listed it would take, it would have been late. US Air just figured a delay was more likely than not, so it added an hour to the “flight time” in order to fulfill that marketing promise. (Heck, maybe a competing airline should add two hours to each flight’s listed flight time. Then it could market, “Beating On Time.”)

This kind of trickery isn’t too common, but it has a damaging effect, I believe. In food, for instance, you’ll see brands reduce the serving size so they can promote 0% trans fat because FDA allows them to say “no trans fat” if there is less than .5% in a serving size.

It’s a practice that works every now and then, although it usually has a short shelf life – and it is often accepted in my industry.

Me. I hate it.

I think it’s just blatant dishonesty and it’s the kind of thing that gives marketing a bad name. As consumers, we’ve all gotten cynical about claims because a series of disappointments have led us to believe most claims are untrue. If claims are found to be false by one consumer or millions, it eventually damages to the brand. And it’s also damaging to the marketing industry as whole.

Therefore, when we see a TV spot featuring a new cleaner for your bathtub or a diet drink that tastes the same as the sugar-coated regular one, we’re automatically suspicious. We’ve been let down this road too many times.

At Stealing Share, we say brand must be three things: 1, Aligned with what is most meaningful to target audiences; 2, Positioned against the competition; and 3, True about yourself. That is, have a brand promise you can live up to, even if that means making some changes.

Multi-billion dollar companies have problems fulfilling all three of those values, but it makes me wince when they can’t be honest because what they claim isn’t true.

See more posts in the following related categories: Airlines on-time fights US Airways


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