Friday Forecast: Are 'Alternative Facts' an Extreme Form of Sales Puffery?

by Colleen Ferrier and Rick Petry on Jan 27, 2017 9:00:00 AM Direct Response

Welcome to the First - Friday Forecast

Direct marketing veterans Colleen Ferrier and Rick Petry have teamed up and will be providing a weekly insight each Friday here on the ERA blog. Together, we’ll examine a current trend and discuss its potential implications for society and the marketing community. We know you are busy, so we will offer succinct, topical insights that can be read in four minutes or less.

First up: ARE ‘ALTERNATIVE FACTS’ AN EXTREME FORM OF SALES PUFFERY?

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Politicians are essentially salespeople and their policies are the products they attempt to sell. Among their consumers are citizens, civil servants, business leaders, and other governments. For all of the handwringing currently aimed at President Donald Trump and his bizarre behavior, which has included needless sparring with the media over some blatantly naked facts such as the size of his inaugural crowd, the POTUS is tapping into some powerful trends. Among them are:

  • Individual Voices Have Replaced Institutions as A Source of Primary Information: Right or wrong, accurate or inaccurate, people are increasingly finding out the so-called “facts” first via social media. The advent of the “citizen journalist” that was crystalized by the Boston Marathon bombing – where individuals in homes were Tweeting the unfolding events as the likes of CNN were held behind barricades – has opened up a whole new world. Within that universe, many are walking around with their finger on the trigger – of a cellphone camera, eager to play a role in reporting their perception of “the truth”. Therefore, the idea that the President would pull an end-around on traditional news organizations and take his version of the “truth” directly to the people via Twitter and the like is merely a reflection of this movement.

  • People Increasingly Seek Information That Reinforces What They Already Believe: Simply look at the uncivil war being waged on the likes of Facebook where people are castigated and unfriended for having opposing political views. Birds of a feather are indeed flocking together as they collectively peck away at dissent that doesn’t align with what feathers their nest. Meanwhile, television and online news sources have become increasingly strident, led by the likes of CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. From Breitbart to BuzzFeed, this sea of biased rhetoric is ceaseless. As a result, thoughtful discourse has been replaced by shouting, and audiences are left to gravitate to the noise that best reflects their own values. Enter Trump’s alternative narrative, and for every individual shaking their head in disgust, there is one laughing and cheering him on; call it a purchase decision. Think of it another way: have you ever considered acquiring something on, say, Amazon, and then found yourself gravitating to the reviews that will reinforce your inclination to buy or not? That is essentially what is happening. Finally, there is this point:

  • Ultimately, Results Will Matter Most: For all of the P.T. Barnum-like character of the administration thus far, Trump is swiftly taking action on everything from the infamous wall and immigration, to job creation, energy and healthcare policy, and crime and safety. If his measures produce results, all of the tongue-wagging and eye-rolling may not matter to a majority of voters, providing their individual lives are improved. And so it goes with any product one has made an investment in – a chemical cleaner may be harmful to the environment, but if it effectively removes rust stains, a good number of users won’t have concerns about the former – much to the horror of some of their friends and neighbors.

Whether we are talking about Apple’s revered “1984” commercial, the yell-and-sell fueled demonstrations of an Oxi Clean, or the T&A tease of GoDaddy, marketers have used shock and awe to grab consumers’ attention ad infinitum. Now we have a President using his soap box to advance an agenda fueled by bluster and the exaggerated claim that, in the process, is creating a soap opera of global proportions. While some contend he’ll likely be the ultimate “stain remover”, others fear he will create stains beyond eradication. Regardless of your position, the eyes and ears of the world are transfixed. The question remains, will America – and the rest of the globe – buy what Trump is selling? If history has taught us anything thus far, it’s that one underestimates the Donald at their own peril.


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Colleen Ferrier is a seasoned direct marketing expert who specializes in guiding integrated direct-to-consumer campaigns with an acute focus on ROI. Her broad experience has included management oversight of marketing, operations, media, and international distribution. The campaigns she has been instrumental in helping lead to success across her 15+ year career include Pillow Pets, Little Giant Ladder, Dream Lites, and Stompeez. Ferrier has a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Augusta University, Georgia.

Rick Petry is a direct marketing veteran of over 25 years who has been involved with campaigns that have generated over $1 billion in sales. He provides creative services to both B2C and B2B marketing campaigns and recent projects have included Actegy/Revitive, Education Connection, GOLO, Joybird, and OYO/DoubleFlex. The author of over 200 articles on direct marketing best practices, Petry has a Bachelor of Arts in Cinema/Television from the University of Southern California and an MBA with an Emphasis in Sales and Marketing from Marylhurst University.

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