Some years ago, a prominent Australian hi-tech company launched a product called Maestro that bundles community-building features like chat rooms, file sharing and instant messaging into one application.
The company envisaged smaller Internet service providers (ISP's) as their main target market for the software. The company president contracted with a sales/marketing person to handle the ISP market. He personally trained the candidate for two weeks, emphasizing all the while that the ISP market is one that needs to be gently handled.
“Don't worry, " the salesperson apparently reassured his unsuspecting boss. “I know some great ways of doing marketing. "
At the end of the two weeks, the contractor sought out a number of email discussion groups and online message boards frequented specifically by ISP owners.
He created two false identities, and struck up “conversations" between the two ID's. The subject of these chats? You've guessed it - what a wonderful product Maestro is!
Before very long, our crack salesperson got embroiled in an argument with another poster on one of the lists. Others became curious and discovered that just one IP address was used with the two IDs. This meant that the two “people" were actually just one person.
When he realized that his newly-revealed antics didn't sit so well, to say the least, with the boss, he readily handed in his resignation. All the same, he didn't really understand what the fuss was about.
“This is the way the game is played, " the president quoted him as saying. After all, he had not misrepresented the product or the company in the postings. All he had said was the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!
So what's the problem, then?
Shaking your head?
Are you shaking your head in disbelief? Well, that's an encouraging sign!
But you must know - such deception abounds. Many apparently respectable people would write here: “deception" (in inverted commas). I mean, we're not talking here about anything really CROOKED, are we?
I wouldn't bank on it. If something's not crooked, it must, by definition, be straight.
When I look around the Internet - never mind the brick-and-mortar world - I don't need a builder's plumb line to tell that an awful lot's going on out there that's not straight! But who cares, anyways?
In the case we just described, the company president received a number of emails supporting his former salesperson's actions.
"Most of them took the stance of “The high road is a bad road, " confessed the president. “I don't agree with them, " he said, “but I can see their point. "
The same news source that reported this incident, also cited a story about a leading entertainment company that recently attracted a lot of embarrassing press - and imminent legal action.
Two very enterprising advertising reps had created a fictitious film critic, who most obligingly wrote up some rave reviews for the company's promotions.
The ruse was discovered and the two hapless advertising people suspended. But I think it's reasonable to assume that these two are far outnumbered by colleagues who are a little more adept at fulfilling the Eleventh Commandment: “Thou Shalt Not Get Caught!"
We could go on and on.
We could talk about the authors who encourage their friends to post glowing reviews on Amazon.com, even when they haven't read the books they refer to. Curiously - or perhaps, typically - this practice is apparently cited with admiration in a recent book on online promotional methods. (Well, if you produce a product and I'm your friend, it MUST be a great product, right?)
Should we talk about the well-known writer who received an email with the subject line “RE: Your Story Proposal"?
Thinking it must be from an editor to whom he had submitted a proposal that he had forgotten about, he opened it immediately. The message was a blatant ad for a new piece of software. (Big deal! All they stole was a couple of minutes of his time, right?)
Or what about the marketers who urge you to take advantage of a time-sensitive special offer that expires on June 30? ("Yes, we should have added which YEAR, but typos do happen!") When your order, don't forget to claim your free Exclusive Report - a $29 value. ("Yes, you can get it free from Acme even WITHOUT an order, but are you telling me I don't know the value of my own merchandise?")
And you still want to talk about “deception" in inverted commas?
Is the high road a bad road? Maybe. Maybe not. I don't know.
But I do know one thing. If you're a merchant and I don't trust you, you went get far on any road.
And if the consumer body, collectively, loses trust in the collective community of merchants, who will there be to trade with at all?
Good road, bad road, what's the difference? As far as I can see, the high road is the ONLY road.
Let me know what you think.
Azriel Winnett is creator of Hodu.com - Your Communication Skills Portal. This popular website helps you improve your communication and relationship skills in your business or professional life, in the family unit and on the social scene. New articles added almost daily.