Conversation Marketing: The Conversation is the Thing

Christine Fife

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What if Products Were Actually Like Their Marketing?

Slimfast Truth

Image found at

What if McDonald’s or Burger King showed a real hamburger from one of their franchises in a commercial? Would you buy it?

What if every Comcast Cable customer service rep really was nice and tried hard to honestly solve your problem? Would you feel better about paying an arm and a leg for cable service?

What if State Farm Car Insurance brokers really did show up instantly? And what else can they do for you? Bring you a sandwich or a hot tub? Would you be more interested in their insurance policies if they really did also match you with hot guys who are sensitive and have a dark side?

There are laws in the US that require companies to be truthful in their advertising, yet so much of advertising certainly doesn’t seem truthful.

Under the Federal Trade Commission Act:

  • Advertising must be truthful and non-deceptive;
  • Advertisers must have evidence to back up their claims; and
  • Advertisements cannot be unfair.

What makes an advertisement deceptive?

According to the FTC’s Deception Policy Statement, an ad is deceptive if it contains a statement – or omits information – that:

McDonald's Quarter Pounder with Cheese

Image from

  • Is likely to mislead consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances; and
  • Is “material” – that is, important to a consumer’s decision to buy or use the product.

Hmmm. Have you ever bought a hamburger from a fast food restaurant that actually looked anything close to the pictures on their advertisements? If I saw this burger pictured here, which is what they show on the menu at McDonald’s for their Quarter Pounder with cheese, I might want to buy it (side note: I don’t actually like hamburgers, myself, and I don’t eat at any fast food restaurants because it isn’t healthy food.) But this is not what you get when you purchase one of these burgers.

Let’s look at a more realistic image, shall we?

Real image of a Quarter Pounder.

Image from of a real quarter-pounder.

This is a real McDonald’s Quarter Pounder purchased at a McDonald’s franchise. Does this look as tasty as the first image? If the product doesn’t look like the advertised image, why is that not breaking any law? And why do consumers seem to be ok with this? People still buy these McDonald’s burgers in droves, yet they all seem to be aware that what they are purchasing won’t look anything like the picture in the ad.

I’d like to throw out a challenge to advertisers. Now if you read my blog often you’ll know that I don’t generally feel that traditional print ads and commercial spots are worth their price anymore. People really have gotten smarter and see through marketing “fluff”–they tune out or just flat out don’t watch or focus on the ads. Perhaps that’s why companies can get away with making claims and showing images for services and products which aren’t really accurate.

So, advertising professionals, what can you do to be more honest if showing your company’s products in advertisements that still make a person interested in the product? I don’t eat Domino’s pizza (I’m gluten free) but I commend them for their switch to honesty in their commercials. Show pictures of food that looks like the real thing. Who wants to eat something that looks plastic-ly perfect anyway?

For some companies, there won’t be an advertising solution. They’ll actually need to improve their products to meet the claims of their commercials. Consumers are getting much to smart and can now tell when you’re slapping lipstick on a pig. If you’ve got a worthy product, be truthful in your advertising. If you’re product isn’t worthy, don’t try and trick people into buying it with glazed over, retouched, airbrushed images of products that don’t accurately reflect what you sell.

In terms of the 5 key elements to marketing communications and audience engagement, this is what it means to Care about your customers’ wants and needs and Care about what you offer.

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More Stories By Christine Fife

As I drove off to college I never would have guessed I would end up here! But it’s been a fantastic journey. My career has been richly diverse giving me an advantage over marketers who are siloed into niche positions. I strive to be a true Renaissance person—I love to learn about everything and trying new things comes naturally. My career has been no different; I’ve successfully launched enterprise software and medical device development startups, improved communications processes for the regulatory department of a major financial exchange, increased client business and product development for several international exchange program companies and founded an international educational non-profit organization. My master’s degree in Integrated Marketing from Golden Gate University gave me a broad understanding of traditional marketing best-practices, but my BA in theater gave me the skills to understand how people communicate with one another and the importance of promoting a brand in a voice that is right for the audience.