Lying to and generally abusing customers has been around as long as business has been in business, but we seem to have reached a point at which we are so casual about it that it that it goes unnoticed most of the time. There is the garden variety bait and switch that is an art form in retailing, but at which Kmart has become especially adept – which may explain their financial condition. In this ad for the upcoming Black Friday sales, you are offered a 32" Sony Hi Def TV for almost a hundred bucks below what you will pay anywhere else – but they are only going to have 4 of them in the store and they won't order another one if you aren' among the lucky 4. In fact the circular is chock full of great deals, but they only have a couple of each item. Safe to assume the rest of the TV's for sale at KMart aren't at quite the same discount. Advertising stuff that you know full well will not be on the shelf when 99% of your customers get to the store strikes me as lying – but that is the way advertising is handled these days.
In a similar vein, some British coffee outfit is putting up signs proclaiming that 7 out of 10 coffee drinkers prefer their swill to Starbucks. In the fine print, however, it turns out that those results only apply to cappuccino. Presumably the folks in the sample did not have the same feelings about the rest of the merchandise.
Incredible as it seems, when you see an ad for the happiness of cows from California, the cows in question, and lush backgrounds in which they are grazing, are actually New Zealand cows. Cheaper, it turns out, to go all the way to New Zealand to find some happy cows than to film the cows owned by the very people who fund the ad. I think that when they show a picture of a cow and call it a California cow, it should actually be a California cow, although I have absolutely nothing against New Zealand cows. I just think the truth ought to figure in somewhere.
The best, however, is Mr Steve Jobs– Fortune magazine's CEO of the Decade, and quite a wealthy man by all accounts. It seems Steve does not approve of smoking – or maybe he is just fine with it, but saw the anti-smoking fever as an opportunity to turn a fast buck and throw a few more coins onto his sizable pile of them. Either way, deciding to unilaterally stop performing warranty repairs on Apple products owned by people who smoke because the repair techs might be exposed to second hand smoke is the same thing as stealing.
I am not advocating smoking, mind you, and I do not deny Mr Jobs the right to feel however he chooses to feel about the matter, but when you take money from people for a product that includes a warranty – then decide that you are not going to honor the warranty - that makes you a thief. He could just announce that he will refund the money any smoker paid for a Mac if he feels that strongly about it, or he could hire technicians who smoke and presumably don't share his terror at the thought of exposure to a little used nicotine to do the repairs, or he could buy all of the repair techs those white suits the toxic clean-up guys wear if he really thinks it is that dangerous. There are a lot of things he could do, but 21% of Americans still smoke in spite of Steve's opinions and I think it is safe to say that about 21% of the Mac buyers smoke. To void their warranties after they shelled out good money either because the CEO of the Decade does not approve of their lifestyles, or simply because it saves 21% of the money Apple spends on warranties is an abuse of customers that even surpasses lying about the ethnicity of cattle.
In any event, none of these approaches to doing business are going to pay off in the long haul. People will go into KMart and find that they have been lied to, folks will but Costa coffee and decide for themselves that Starbucks is better, folks everywhere will drink California milk and realize that it came from a cow with such a bad attitude that she would not even appear in a commercial, and 21% of the Mac crowd will say 'screw you' to Steve Jobs.
In the long haul, being open, honest and fair to customers is the only way to succeed. And Steve Jobs can preach all day long about his commitment to and knowledge of his customers, but the 'CEO of the Decade' ought to honor a warranty once he sells it to someone.
Since I wrote this I received the following email from Jennifer Giambroni from the California Milk Advisory Board:
I wanted to clear up an error on your recent blog post – “The Ethnicity of Cattle and Other Matters.” The popular “Happy Cows” campaign is pivotal in helping to raise awareness for California milk and dairy products that carry the Real California Milk Seal. These cows and all shots of California pastures and farms were entirely filmed and will always be filmed and produced in California. The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) has never and will never misrepresent our industry and our dairy farms and families in that way.
This year we switched our advertising focus to a new “Auditions” campaign with UNhappy cows from around the world auditioning for the chance to come here to become California Happy Cows. This new campaign does not show any California Happy Cows, therefore the CMAB made an economic decision to film four days of footage at a sound stage in New Zealand. It is important to note that all of post-production work – editing, music, effects and animation – will still be conducted with California production facilities. That means 6-8 weeks of work for each of the 10 commercials.
The dairy industry is facing its most devastating year since the Great Depression – we’ve lost 10% of our family dairy farms this year alone. All funds that pay for this campaign come from the dairy producers themselves and the money we will save on this small amount of production work means we can create more commercials touting California dairy (and in reality, California itself).
As Californians, we understand the critical importance of keeping as many jobs in our state as possible. That’s why more than 90% of our advertising production dollars will be spent in California next year. We value the pool of creative resources based in our state and we will look to maximize the use of these resources in the years to come.