Deceptive Marketing Works … Until the Customer Walks in the Dor

Andrew Stanten


Credit where credit is due: A local car dealership had me fooled for a fleeting moment. I suspect many didn’t pick up on the subtleties of the direct mail package and headed over to the dealership thinking they’d won at least $50 cash – and maybe $60,000.

Deceptive markeitng

Top to bottom, this was a very effective bit of direct mail to get people to go to the dealership. But once recipients get to the showroom and find out they didn’t win anything of substance, likely some stink was raised.

The over-sized plain manila envelope with “For Immediate Use Only” and an Eden Prairie, MN return address caught my attention. First hurdle cleared – I opened it. Inside was a four-color, glossy “Congratulations – You Win!” promo slick. Normally I toss these. But this came with a “Scratch Here to Win” type game.

If I had to fumble for a quarter to rub it, it would have wound up in the recycling bin. But there was a car key attached to the mailer. Second hurdle cleared. So I scratched. Then the piece read, “If the lucky number above matches the number you scratched off, YOU HAVE DEFINITELY WON ONE OF THESE 5 PRIZES.” Guess what? My lucky number matched! Ok, I was sucked in.

  • 2010 Chevy Cobalt
  • $2500 cash
  • Scratch of worth up to $60,000
  • Honda ATV
  • $50 cash.

A quick read and I could win $60,000. Right? I better head to the dealership. At a minimum, I won $50.

Too good to be true, indeed. First read, which is often all people will give something, I saw $60,000 as one of the 5 prizes I may have won. This meant the minimum I would get for my efforts of going to the dealership would be $50. The deceptive hook here is on the “scratch off worth up to.”

Let’s assume I didn’t pick up on this hook and I go to the showroom to claim my prize, expecting a minimum of $50, and I get handed not a new car, not $2,500 in cash, not the keys to an ATV, but a scratch card.

When I find out I won nothing or something a lot less than the $50 minimum I was thinking I’d get for walking in the door – am I going to be an excited prospect ready to do business with them, or will I feel duped? People are very cynical about car dealerships. Promos like this reinforce the belief that when a car dealer pitches you something that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

But I will give credit where credit is due. This was slick and no doubt works to get bodies in the showroom. I just wonder how many of those people walk away really ticked off.

Andrew Stanten

Andrew Stanten co-founded Altitude Marketing in 2004. As CEO, he ensures the right people are on board, delivering world-class marketing services to Altitude’s global client base, and staying true to Altitude’s mission, vision and values.
Andrew possesses an innate ability to process, organize and summarize massive volumes of client and market information and turn it into actionable, strategic thinking. This enables Team Altitude to get smart about a company quickly—and develop winning, integrated approaches that vault clients into a position of prominence and strength.
Andrew graduated from Syracuse University and earned his MBA from Lehigh University.