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Fake Experiences & Lies

by Doug Davidoff | Sep 20, 2006 12:11:30 PM

Why is it that marketers often feel that lying is an effective strategy? This time it’s Ameriprise. Their recent marketing campaign focuses on the creation of a ‘dream plan.’ Now, I’m not taking anything away from Ameriprise – they have some fine financial advisors. They also have a significant number of advisors who don’t belong in the business.

Their promise to create a ‘dream plan’ makes for great copy. I even like some of the ads (actually anything with Dennis Hopper in it can’t be all bad). However, Ameriprise in incapable of delivering the promise they are making. Their advisors aren’t trained properly for the endeavor, and their compensation structure doesn’t support its delivery .

Ameriprise’s marketing department has accurately identified a need in the market. I have no question that people ‘want’ what Ameriprise is offering. However, identifying a need in the market does a company (or its clients) no good if the company is not maniacally focused on delivering it.

Three years ago, I had an opportunity to get a very big consulting contract with a major insurance company. They had launched a new asset management program geared to financial advisors. Meeting with the National Sales Manager, I had a great conversation about what the manager wanted to do. This manager articulated what the market needed and communicated his desire to promise it as well as anyone I had ever met. Then, I asked him if he (and his company) was ready to make the changes necessary to support the delivery. We agreed that this would require changing how reps were compensated and how they were trained. He told me that there was a good chance on the training (that’s what we were meeting about), but there was no way on the compensation. I turned down the opportunity and the company’s offering is still struggling.

In the 1990s, it was United Airlines that lied to its customers with their ‘Rising’ advertising campaign. In that campaign, United identified why people didn’t like flying or airlines. They promised to solve those issues. Of course, all United did was make a promise. They failed to deliver and they ended up in bankruptcy. SouthWest, on the other hand, didn’t make promises they could not deliver upon, and SouthWest continues to make money.

Ameriprise’s campaign angers me for two reasons: first, it’s bad business, and second, their lie makes it that much more difficult for those companies that are sincere to make their marketing credible. The more consumers hear promises that companies fail to deliver on, the more they believe that all promises are lies.