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09 December 2008

Advertising is Absurd, Part 1

For 10 years, the makers of Airborne herbal supplement "The One Developed by a School Teacher!" (2nd grade teacher Victoria Knight-McDowell) claimed that it could be used daily to prevent colds and could even stop a cold if you already had one. People bought it, literally and figuratively; their sales climbed like a fever to over $100 Million per year.

Their claim was even 'authenticated' by an outside research facility. Sounds impressive eh? Dispensing medical claims by a teacher just wasn't enough it seems. Well it turns out that independent research facility was a company started specifically to support Airborne's claim and to provide the appearance of independence. It was comprised of two people. The leader of those two used a fake degree from Indiana University suggesting that he was, you know, something of a doctor, scientist and researcher that he was not. Oops.

Airborne later reworded its marketing and packaging to say the supplement "boosts your immune system." But the damage had been done; the public's trust had been violated.

Now there is a class action lawsuit. But of course.

Elise Donahue, the CEO of Airborne, unlike in it's previous 10 year campaign, claimed in a press tour that Airborne is not actually a cure for the common cold, but can only boost a healthy person's immune system. Still, they have removed the wording of a miracle cure from their packaging because, in the words of their noble leader: "We found it confused consumers ... Consumers are not really scientifically-minded enough to be able to understand a clinical study." Hmmm. Arrogance personified. Where's the harpoon?

And Airborne's culture built on fraud and deceit is now going to cost them over $23 million USD in a settlement. If you don't have a receipt to prove you actually bought any Airborne, you can sign an affidavit and you can receive a settlement ... in the form of more Airborne products! Don't worry, the lawyers will get real money, the 'victims' will get more of the dreck that didn't work the first time....the last of the great deals huh?

There are so many better ways for a company to make money and to generate goodwill among your customers than lying to them and selling them schlock. Amazing that some companies continue to try to pull the wool over our eyes at every opportunity.

So, what companies are doing it right?

Among my list of companies that are doing it mostly right are:

  • Disney World - they are masters at the customer experience and the more I learn about their inner workings, the more impressed I am.
  • Dooney & Bourke - their original products were made out of All-Weather Leather (they shrink the leather instead of stretching it) from cows that never saw a barbed wire fence. I wish they made more men's products.
  • Container Store - they take of their employees first. Because without happy employees, there can be no happy customers. What a concept!

There are others, but I shall refrain and perhaps dedicate a future post to those enterprises that do it right, or try like hell anyway.


Dana said...

But ... but ... what about the consumer's responsibility! General knowledge dictates that a cold cannot be cured, no matter what claim a product's packaging makes. Not that the company isn't at fault too - I'm just making my claim for all around ignorance!

Michael M. said...

Oh Dana, you know that consumers can't be held responsible for anything anymore! Haven't you been reading the lawyer ads on the back of the phone book lately? :)