Why do companies resort to questionable practices just to get a few customers? Marketing is not about getting customers at all cost; it is about offering the greatest satisfaction to them within the boundaries of societal norms, laws, and ethics. Otherwise, every marketer would be a con man, and some may think that it is already the case. As a professor of marketing, this is how I see the profession.
On the back cover of the last issue of Layers Magazine was an ad. The tagline caught my attention and I first applauded the company. They did the first thing right by getting my attention. It said “15,000 Photo Downloads Per Month for $9.99 /month“. That is a great offer, nay, a terrific one. Then it continued with “Rendezvous with 6.5 million images. Prices beyond words“. A nice photograph accompanied the words. I decided to check out their website and found an attractive Web site at photoXpress.com. You may want to check out their claim yourself. Realizing that I may send some people to their site despite my intention to the contrary, I am providing the Web address and the ad that I scanned for you to be the judge.
What I found on the site did not seem to have anything to do with their claim in the ad. If you paid $9.99 /month you would be entitled to 1 (one) download per day, amounting to 30 downloads per month, somewhat close to 15,000! The “Monthly 25” plan gave you 25/month for $37.50/month. And so on. Clearly there was a mismatch between the ad and the reality. I wanted to find out more and I wrote a message to them from their Talk to us form and asked where might I find the advertised subscription plan. In a day or two, I got the following answer:
Your ticket “Subscriptions / 15,000 photo downloads per month for $9.99/month” has been answered.
Hi, Thank you for your e-mail. Please feel free to visit our new Subscription Plans section http://www.photoxpress.com/Info/Upgrade Note that our minimum plan is for $9,99 and currently we have over 15,000 photos available on the site. Kind regards, PhotoXpress C.S. Department Follow us on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/PhotoXpressFree Join us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/PhotoXpress (Note: Since this post, the company was acquired by Adobe and these links may not work and are disabled.)
Or read your answer by logging into your PhotoXpress account and clicking here:
The PhotoXpress.com Team
I did not find the answer to my question and I was a bit more confused especially by the explanation of 15,000 photos. They have more, much more than 15,000 photos, so the use of that figure sounds a bit, well, arbitrary to me. (Their facebook page reports “Nearly 10 million Photos and Illustrations”) One category I clicked on, Food & Drink, yielded 889,917 hits. Truth be told, I did not count them! But defending the claim “15,000 photo downloads” by simply saying they have more than 15,000 photos is on shaky ground, don’t you think? Why stop there, go ahead and say “150,000 downloads per month” as there are more than that many on the site?
Not having an account there, I had no way of logging in to read the response. If there was more to it I could not see it. So, I replied to their firstname.lastname@example.org address in the mail footer and reminded them that they had not answered my question and I was primarily interested in the truthfulness of their claim. I also asked that they kindly replied to my e-mail rather than posting an answer I had no way of reading. Needless to say, I have not yet heard from them and I am not holding my breath.
Will I ever buy anything from them? Most likely not! I don’t know about you, but if someone talks in a confusing manner, even before the first rendezvous I get a bit uneasy! I wanted to learn a little more about the membership and started reading their FAQ, nicely organized with a TOC at the top. I clicked on number 7 “Daily quota and Downloading” which jumped to the relevant entry #7 where I found “7. [Intentionally deleted] ” (as of January 8, 2011). Come again!
They have a decent quality collection, images appear to be of good quality, the variety seems to be there. Why on earth did they use the obviously misleading claim? Could it be an overzelous ad agency? Maybe an intern came up with the idea and nobody thought of critically reading the short copy. Whatever the reason, I hope someone pays attention to this problem and takes corrective, and proactive action. An explanation of this ad will be a good start. Truth in advertising is not just an empty idea. It is the law and it needs to be upheld by everyone, buyer and seller, if we expect to benefit from marketing communications.
Now, let me share this with my colleagues to use in the marketing ethics discussions …