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Dish: Under the Spell

Let’s face it: Even as the direct response industry has matured and become more mainstream, it still has had to deal with the fallout created by its legacy of overpromising and underdelivering. In light of this, one of the most confounding things that occasionally recurs is the use of shoddy business practices that cause marketers to come under reputation-management fire, no matter how strong the merits of their product.

It’s confusing, because the situation could easily be remedied with the right leadership and vision. One marketer I’ve observed, for example, has a terrific product, but relies on egregious shipping charges to ensure they will make money even if the product is returned. Not surprisingly, this marketer has been “flamed” online by buyers who have failed to read the fine print, despite the fact that the core offering is solid. When I pointed out how this negative publicity could damage future sales to a colleague familiar with the campaign, he assured me that SEO tactics help head off the bad publicity by subjugating unfavorable links to lower listing positions.

This situation brings to mind none other than Mickey Mouse. Recall the scene from Walt Disney’s Fantasia in which Mickey plays the Sorcerer’s Apprentice? As a bright young protégé, he observes the wizened wizard’s spells. The Apprentice then attempts to employ a spell himself to transform a broom into his workhorse that fills a well with buckets of water. When he falls asleep on the job, he dreams that he commands the stars and the seas—but he awakens to a flooded chamber. Mickey attempts to make the problem go away by smashing the broom, but its many shards multiply into an army of bad juju, nearly drowning him in a whirlpool. Not until the sorcerer uses his imposing authority to restore order is Mickey saved from the cataclysmic consequences of his own bad judgment.

No SEO trickery makes deserved consumer contempt go away.

And so it shall be with any marketer who tries to employ shortcuts to do an end-run around consumer fairness. If business practices are not in order—if they are not easily understood and completely transparent to the consumer—the marketer will be flooded by online scorn. No SEO trickery makes deserved consumer contempt go away. If eight out of 10 consumers now use second screens such as tablets and smartphones while they watch TV, as is commonly reported, you must assume that when their interest is piqued by an ad, they will check online to see if the marketer’s reputation passes muster.

I had a better experience recently with a leading industry fitness marketer. I signed up for its nutritional supplement continuity program. At nearly $200 a month, it isn’t cheap. After a few months, I found myself with a backlog of product. With a single call, I was able to skip a shipment without a lot of rigmarole. This marketer is purportedly getting an average of 4.5 turns out of its program, which equates to an average lifetime value per customer of nearly $900. And that brings up a fundamental question all marketers should ask themselves: Are you in the business of transactions or relationships? Are you treating your consumers like it’s a one-night stand, or are you looking for an ongoing, mutually beneficial, and potentially very lucrative marriage between brand and buyer?

It’s a question worth pondering. In an age in which consumers freely, virtually talk among themselves about how you’re treating them, the latter approach is the only one likely to survive. If the former approach suits a marketer—if they’re inclined merely to take the money and run—all I can say is good luck. They’re going to need it, because if the public doesn’t flood them with bad publicity, regulators’ paperwork probably will. The high road can be paved with gold. As for the low road, well, that sort of thinking is just Mickey Mouse.


Rick Petry is a freelance writer who specializes in direct marketing and is a past chairman of ERA. He can be reached at (503) 740-9065 or online at rickpetry.com [1] and @thepetrydish on Twitter [2].