Technology ad campaigns: Untruths, well told?

Is marketing for IT companies an equivalent of elegiac poetry, a case of untruth, well told?

What happens when a company's advertising distorts facts, conceals vital information from buyers and deliberately side-steps key shortcomings in its product

Liars, or idiots?

Difficult to decide what best describes technology companies that produce misleading advertising campaigns. Examples of such deceit abound.

Consider the case of a leading company making multimedia accessories that sold a 16-bit soundcard whose model name ended with a ‘16’. So far, so good. But it continued to release successive models with ‘32’, ‘64’ and ‘128’ as appendices. None of them was a ‘32-bit’, ‘64-bit’ or a ‘128-bit’ card. But that is what computer buyers were implicitly led to believe.

YES

Or what about a software company that sells its product in an impressive looking box complete with a thick manual, and pitches it as “…an advanced tool for your Professional Diagramming needs”. The software? A 4 MB plugin for the ‘Organisation Chart’ function in Microsoft Word.

Even that colossus of technology, Intel, relentlessly advertised that their new processor would deliver a vastly better ‘…Internet experience’, disregarding the fact that bandwidth and latency, two factors that really influence the ‘Internet experience’ (besides site design, of course) are completely unaffected by the processor.

Color, romance and drama in the communication of technology are welcome. They help to differentiate the brand in our minds and liven-up what would otherwise be a dull business.

So, very few people object to a straight-faced Apple memorably describing its new desktop PC as a ‘supercomputer’. Or confront the marketers of an ‘integrated cable management system’ who neglect to mention that what they are selling is really a set of plastic clips to hold together the mess of wires behind your PC.

Consumers tolerate this commercial equivalent of elegiac poetry. Like they endure the car-company that shamelessly claims to a credulous public that there is ‘…a 100 MHz computer’ under the hood of their little four-door.

But what happens when a company’s advertising distorts facts, conceals vital information from buyers and deliberately side-steps key shortcomings in its product?

Nothing.

Unfortunately, in the largely unregulated communication market, companies readily cash in on the flavor of the moment. Remember the advertisement for an ‘Internet-compatible Mouse Pad’?

The founder of one of the largest advertising agencies in the world once described his business as being ‘Truth, well told’. But what do consumers do in these times when there are so many untruths, so well told?

Trust Latin to come up with some ageless wisdom. Caveat Emptor—May the Buyer Beware. Faced with ungoverned overstatement in advertising, an informed skepticism may be your best defense.