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Brilliantly deceptive marketing works well, but what happens when the customer walks in the door?

Credit where credit is due: A local car dealership had me fooled for a fleeting moment. I suspect many didn’t pick up on the subtleties of the direct mail package and headed over to the dealership thinking they’d won at least $50 cash — and maybe $60,000.

Top to bottom, this was a very effective bit of direct mail to get people to go to the dealership. But once recipients get to the showroom and find out they didn’t win anything of substance, likely some stink was raised.

The over-sized plain manila envelope with “For Immediate Use Only” and an Eden Prairie, MN return address caught my attention. First hurdle cleared – I opened it. Inside was a four-color, glossy “Congratulations – You Win!” promo slick. Normally I toss these. But this came with a “Scratch Here to Win” type game.

If I had to fumble for a quarter to rub it, it would have wound up in the recycling bin. But there was a car key attached to the mailer. Second hurdle cleared. So I scratched. Then the piece read, “If the lucky number above matches the number you scratched off, YOU HAVE DEFINITELY WON ONE OF THESE 5 PRIZES.” Guess what? My lucky number matched! Ok, I was sucked in.

  • 2010 Chevy Cobalt
  • $2500 cash
  • Scratch of worth up to $60,000
  • Honda ATV
  • $50 cash.
A quick read and I could win $60,000. Right? I better head to the dealership. At a minimum, I won $50.

Too good to be true, indeed. First read, which is often all people will give something, I saw $60,000 as one of the 5 prizes I may have won. This meant the minimum I would get for my efforts of going to the dealership would be $50. The deceptive hook here is on the “scratch off worth up to.”

Let’s assume I didn’t pick up on this hook and I go to the showroom to claim my prize, expecting a minimum of $50, and I get handed not a new car, not $2500 in cash, not the keys to an ATV, but a scratch card.

When I find out I won nothing or something a lot less than the $50 minimum I was thinking I’d get for walking in the door – am I going to be an excited prospect ready to do business with them, or will I feel duped? People are very cynical about car dealerships. Promos like this reinforce the belief that when a car dealer pitches you something that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

But I will give credit where credit is due. This was slick and no doubt works to get bodies in the showroom. I just wonder how many of those people walk away really ticked off.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ANDREW STANTEN co-founded Altitude Marketing in 2004. He possesses an innate ability to process, organize and summarize massive volumes of client and market information and turn it into actionable, strategic thinking.
This enables Team Altitude to get smart about a company very quickly—and to develop winning, integrated approaches that vault clients into a position of prominence and strength.

Having been on the purchasing side of marketing agency services for nearly 15 years, Andrew’s vision for Altitude was born of hard-won experience. He knew a different kind of agency was needed—a firm that takes a holistic and integrated approach towards promoting its clients, while consistently over-delivering on value and responsiveness.

Brilliantly deceptive marketing works well, but what happens when the customer walks in the door? Credit where credit is due: A local car dealership had me fooled for a fleeting moment. I suspect

You (didn’t) WIN: Jackpot scams from the car dealer

I’m usually pretty good at spotting the “small print” on gimmick mailers and promotional contests. The latest one from a local car dealership was well-hidden. I looked and looked. Got out my hand-lens and scanned the tiny print in the margins. Hmm. This one was sneaky.

Mail flyers from car dealers that say you’ve won cash or prizes are bogus ploys to get you to come to the business. This one, from Brenner Pre-Owned in Harrisburg, PA and addressed to “Future Customer”, contained a scratch-off ticket. Some contain “keys” that you bring into the dealer to try for a new car.

Alright, I’ll play. [Put on skeptical spectacles]

According to the directions I need to “Pull a set of matching symbols and you are a winner”. I scratched off matching triple 7s. I won! The Prize Board displayed shows matching triple 7s is Prize 1 – $5000 cash. Digging through the tiny print I found only ONE hint that this might not be an actual winning ticket.

A winning number on a mail piece will be matched to a winning number sign posted at the dealership to determine the prize won.

That is contradictory. And pretty sleazy. It’s a bait-and-switch. You think you are getting one thing but you end up with a cheap token prize that you didn’t expect.

The flyer was labeled in the postage section as being from “cheapautodeals” – a website that specializes in marketing these promotions. On that site [link now broken], I was able to browse all the deceptive materials they will mail in bulk for auto businesses as you target new customers. Behold, the exact flyer and even the exact ticket. They are ALL “winners”.

No, I didn’t go to the dealer to see if I had the matching confirmation number. I have better things to do with my time. Besides, there is hardly any worse thing to do on a holiday weekend than to visit a car lot teeming with roaming $ale$people working for commission. It’s a first-world form of torture.

What does the dealer do when he gets you in the door to claim your “prize”? Is there pressure to trade in your old vehicle? Do they size you up for a loan qualification? They most certainly take personal information and place you on a mailing list. I wonder how many people fall for this? Such craftiness targets older people or those who may be less educated and not careful readers.

Heck, if you have poor eyesight you couldn’t possibly read the fine print.

Making a logical deduction from what you are given, it appears you have won a certain prize. Outright trickery is not anticipated (unless you are familiar with these traps). Legal folks who specialize in cheating the system had their hand in this. I couldn’t find anything on Cheapautomailers.com about legal coverage. MotorTrend covered this very common ploy. A former salesman admits that his employer ran these promotions four times a year, sending thousands of mailers, and had more people than you would expect come into the lot expecting to drive away in a new car they had won. He never saw anyone actually win a car.

In 2014, the Atlanta-area Better Business Bureau issued a warning about these ads after a complaint from a woman who thought she’d won. Officials investigated the claim and determined that it was within legal guidelines but was deceptive. Sounds like there is a loophole. Once again, we see that you can’t efficiently legislate against a general lack of critical thinking.

I’m sending this post to my representative because this kind of deceptive marketing shouldn’t be happening in my state or anywhere.

You (didn’t) WIN: Jackpot scams from the car dealer I’m usually pretty good at spotting the “small print” on gimmick mailers and promotional contests. The latest one from a local car dealership