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What have you heard about Milli Vanilli singer John Davis dying after a struggle with COVID?
How about the United States Postal Service apps that provide direct links to sex traffickers?
Besides these things being on the news and splattered across social media sites almost every day, you do know that they are not actually real, don’t you?
Like so many other critical conditions, these lies were created by marketers and scam artists to get you to part company with your hard-earned cash.
Stunned? Shocked? Then it will probably surprise you to learn that these were not the first times that something was created simply to sell more products or make more money.
When else has this happened? How about all the ads you see for prescription medicines created to cure your Restless Leg Syndrome?Here’s the problem: Restless Leg Syndrome doesn’t actually exist. It was created to give you something else to spend your money on.
The real story? Restless Leg Syndrome is marketing shorthand for Willis-Ekbom disease. And Willis-Ekbom does cause sensations in your legs including itching, pulling, crawling, tugging, throbbing, burning, or gnawing. But here’s the thing… Willis-Ekbom is associated with many different conditions, diseases, and medications. It’s not one malady and there’s not one solution.
Unless you’re watching the ads selling the solutions, of course. In that case it’s Restless Leg Syndrome and there’s a single remedy you can buy.
How about Halitosis? Believe it or not, bad breath wasn’t perceived as a medical condition until one company realized that bad breath could help them sell mouthwash. According to Smithsonian Magazine, “No one is claiming that Listerine invented bad breath. Human mouths have stunk for millennia, (but) advertisements for Listerine transformed halitosis from a bothersome personal imperfection into an embarrassing medical condition that urgently required treatment. Treatment that—conveniently—the company wanted to sell.
According to the book Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity, published by University of California Press, “the halitosis influence became standard advertising jargon. In unmistakable tribute, copywriters soon discovered and labeled over a hundred new diseases, including such transparent imitations such as ‘bromodosis’ (sweaty foot odors), ‘homotosis’ (lack of attractive home furnishings), and ‘acidosis’ (sour stomach) and such inventive afflictions as ‘office hips,’ ‘ashtray breath,’ and ‘accelerator toe.’ Needless to say, most of these new diseases had escaped the notice of the medical profession.”
Marketers selling all kinds of products, from food to drugs, create problems so they can sell products designed to fix those very same problems.
Scammers promote false narratives and too-good-to-be-true opportunities to lure unsuspecting consumers into their webs.
And using this same practice, politicians and lobbyists make up nonexistent problems and phony causes simply so they can sell fake solutions created to generate support, donations, and votes.
Far be it from me to impose my personal or political opinions on you – that’s not what this blog is all about. But, as a branding and marketing expert, it’s clear that many of us are being manipulated by unethical newsmakers who exaggerate conditions and exacerbate problems in order to promote specious solutions for which – SURPRISE SURPRISE – their clients, con artists or candidates claim to offer solutions.
Thanks so much Bruce. People need to be more discerning, but how do you teach that. It’s human nature to be swayed by information that aligns with their beliefs and prejudices. Some readers have no beliefs at all and will be influenced by whatever they read. It would be nice if there was a cure., but how can we me them see the real version of the truth, or at least our version of the truth?
Explaining the solution is easy, Dennis. Doing it is another matter.
One of the great advantages of the Internet’s democratized media is that information is all around us, making it easier to research situations and confirm (or deny) facts.
At the same time, that plethora of information is also a curse because the Internet’s universal access to data allows a lot of false narratives — garbage in, garbage out.
It’s important for each of us to find information sources we believe in and to make sure that we look at enough of them that we’re confirming the facts we’re using to make decisions.
It’s also critical that we differentiate between fact and opinion — when we’re checking outside sources (the difference between editorials or op-eds and informational articles in newspapers or on TV news shows, for example), talking to our friends and associates, and even making decisions based on our own perceptions, prejudices, and observations.