Lies, Misleading Truths and Marketing

The recently televised Harvard lectures on Justice by Michael Sandel through Kant’s stringent theory of morality introduced the subject of “misleading truths” (http://tinyurl.com/y94cqsc). This is trying to mislead without actually lying so keeping Kant’s moral theory in tact.   There are many examples of this and Clinton on the Lewinsky affair used in this programme is perhaps the most famous.

I recently received an unsolicited call from a London investment company trying to promote their services.  Clearly from the sound of the call it was not coming from London.  I asked the caller where he was calling from.  London was the reply and this was clearly a lie.  Having managed to extricate myself from the callers ‘grasp’ I challenged him again saying I did not believe he was calling from London.  He finally admitted

 “I am in India, but calling from London”. 

 May be he believed this to be an acceptable lie or perhaps a misleading truth. Unfortunately I, his prospect, still ranked it as a lie.

In business and marketing I suggest misleading truths to cover lies or suspect claims of product or service benefits will in the end only fool you.  Simply because, it is not what you believe or want your prospects to believe to be true, it is what they believe.  You may succeed in capturing the first sale, but if your customer feels they have been misled it is unlikely to secure loyalty and future custom.  Worse still if they believe they have been cheated, then they may well tell others and bad news spreads much more quickly than good.

Being a little ingenuous, businesses need to work hard on their product offer and develop it to ensure that there are in fact real benefits to the market they serve.  They need continued marketing support to sustain its position and increase entry barriers to competitor alternatives.  Even then a product generally has a limited lifecycle and even more effort is required to bring new products and customers to the business.  Resting on the laurels of a ‘super-product’ will leave a business dangerously exposed.

Perhaps the concept of misleading truths may have helped me understand how politicians in particular appear to be able to change their position quite dramatically with what seems to be a clear conscience.

However the use of misleading truths in business just will not cut the mustard.