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A creative blog by Anthony Godoy on The Whole 9

Anthony Godoy is the creative director at Dead Serious MM, a Seattle boutique branding agency. He’s also a photographer and life-long writer whose work has appeared on The Whole 9 for a few years. Though his days are being infringed upon more and more by business development and management responsibilities (running a company and all), he still finds time to hit the design world hands on. He is also a skier, lover of music and gets around pretty fast in the social media circles. Follow him on Twitter, @deadseriousmm, and on Facebook at Dead Serious MM.

The Surrender Price: Green Heat’s AmazonLocal Formula

“Take the number of vehicles in the field, (A), and multiply it by the probable rate of failure, (B), then multiply the result by the average out-of-court settlement, (C). A times B times C equals X…”

– Jack

Everything I needed to know about advertising I learned from comparing the sexy misadventures portrayed in beer commercials, to my alcoholic mother. I’ll spare you the details, but clearly, advertising lies.

Amidst a sea of consumer options, and an evermore-suspicious consumer, it is Ad Man’s task to either portray a client’s product as better than its competitors’, or to invent expectations of a better consumer experience or outcome. Over the years advertising has simply abandoned the qualities of the product for the imagined optimum consumer experience that “may” result from a consumer’s purchase of or participation in a product or event.

It’s Fantasy. Remember J-Lo in that Fiat? That was horrifying.

The result is the consumer’s ability to stare at McDonald’s commercials and the ensuing inability to see the obesity, to watch soccer mom SUV commercials and not see the oil wars. And side effects are just punch lines in drug commercials pushing affliction and self-diagnosis.

Consumers don’t truly understand the product, but buy it anyway.

When neither product or experience can separate one from another in a pool of related consumer goods, like say, ventilation duct cleaners, then it becomes a matter of price, a battle that wages nicely on AmazonLocal, Groupon, and other deepening online coupon arenas. The word “coupon” itself doesn’t mean “advantage,” or “quality.” Coupon means to consumers “cheap,” and to businesses, “bait.”

My wife’s attention was drawn to AmazonLocal’s coupon, sold by Green Heat Service, that read, “$49 Air Duct Cleaning and Inspection.” The experience and the product painted their own pictures – a clean-cut engineer-type man with blue eyes and a yellow hard hat who arrives in a nice new van with high-tech machinery to clear your dirty ducts of allergens. This image is reinforced by Green Heat’s website, chock full of stock photography depicting clean living and even cleaner people. The authenticity is provided by Amazon.

But that’s when the coupon game gets ugly.

Today my wife texted me that Green Heat’s people had arrived markedly early, and she was surprised at the speed with which two men stripped our ducts of their vent covers and filled the living room with industrial-looking equipment. I ran home. Entering the house I saw a dingy immigrant scurrying about looking nervous as he sucked dust with a Sear’s shop vac from a vent as far as his arm could reach. I could tell that the last thing either of the men wanted was to see me walking through the door and assessing anything. And it didn’t take long for the other shoe to drop. There was my wife, on the phone, angry with someone.

“It doesn’t say anywhere on the coupon anything about the difference between supply and return ducts . . .”

I recognized the music before even hearing it clearly. My wife had been duped by a misleading promise, and Green Heat Service was trying to either cash in on it, or wiggle out of it, saying now that they only vacuum “supply ducts,” and not “return ducts,” where the dirt really lives. That was an extra $300.

English isn’t my wife’s first language, so I can tell when she’s being lead around in a scheme by someone on the phone, which was clearly happening here. I held out my hand, and she gave me the phone. I listened as a woman rambled with a clearly defensive tone. She was even cross. Mean, actually.

“Stop,” I said. And she paused before barking out an indignant, “Who’s this?” as if she’d caught me in bed with her pimp.

“This is Mister Godoy, who am I speaking with?” I asked. I was surprised at her attitude and her response, something between inmate and ex convict. All I wanted was her name, which she wouldn’t give. She yelled out that our service was over, and she’d be pulling her workers immediately, and hung up. I envisioned a woman slamming the receiver on a payphone in a Seattle police station drunk tank.

The on-site manager seemed nice enough, and I could tell that he deals with this from time to time. His phone rang immediately, and it was in fact the same woman telling him to pack it up, they’d been fingered.

I listened to him for a bit as he offered me some smiling explanation while packing up his things. Like most foreigners he spoke with his hands, and he motioned around the house to ducts and vent covers. He smiled in that way.

I held up a hand and said, “Look, we’re both in advertising. She’s into the numbers, and I’m into the psychology, and it’s clear what happened here,” I said. He relaxed, and smiled wider. “The coupon offers some low price to clean our ducts, and people bite thinking ‘what a deal.’ You guys arrive, quickly rip the house apart so that if we want all the ducts clean, as we assume we’re already entitled to, we have to pay what you’ve already calculated is a likely surrender price.” In this case, over $300. He smiled and cocked his head to the side with his hand held out toward where I don’t know. The conversation turned to skiing.

This was a common instance where a lure is put our there, a clear vague promise underscored with grayish fine print that may or may not explain the details, because it isn’t important. What’s important is to get the product or service provider’s foot in the door, where the negotiating begins. Coupon = Bait. Once work is started, most consumers will fork over the cash needed to fulfill the basic expectation out of frustration, and that’s how money is made in a war where the only service and experience ever offered was actually imagined. It is the bait and switch.

When he was gone I turned to explain it to my wife, and to point out in the fine print what I suspected would be somewhat clear language. I started with the AmazonLocal email.

“Good news, Lia! Your AmazonLocal order is confirmed.” Notice the language, not that anyone is grateful for our business, but that we are somehow fortunate to have either been personally accepted into some fraternity, or lucky that their technology worked. Either way, some sort of onus is now upon us, and AmazonLocal and or Green Heat is owed some type of return.

And what are we so fortunate for?

“Air-Duct Cleaning and Furnace Inspection.”

I clicked the link, and carefully read the fine print.

Fine print 1: $49 ($369 value) for air-duct cleaning and furnace inspection.

There is the service, and a restatement of the offer designed to further ingrain our expectations and to strengthen our resolve to achieve them – the cleaning of the air ducts and an inspection of the furnace. And apparently our AmazonLocal $49 is getting us $369 worth of services, while the same $49 on Groupon from the same Green Heat gets you only $299 worth of services. Maybe that’s the good news?

Fine print 2: Enhance air quality

There is the consumer experience and the payoff, the young fit-looking models dancing around on a beach enjoying the advertised beer.

Fine print 3: All supply vents vacuumed using state-of-the-art HVAC equipment.

And there’s the sly introduction of the rub, “supply.” Apparently there are also “return” ducts, not mentioned anywhere in the fine print, which suck dirty air from the house and into the furnace, before newly warmed and filtered air moves into the “supply” ducts. It’s a single word, and a technical one, really, which will mean nothing to any consumer browsing coupons or excitedly taking the afternoon off of work to be home for the service. But it means everything to the opportunist in its releasing both Green Heat and AmazonLocal from any culpability in false or misleading advertising were two or more litigants to ever sit at the same table together.

My wife didn’t grow up with beer commercials or the constant carrot of a better life upon the spending of cash or the deepening of credit card debt. She grew up in bread lines, and so I forgive her for not really playing the game properly.

Remember the film Fight Club? If you do, and you’ve read this far, you know exactly where I’m going with it. But let’s review. . .

“Take the number of vehicles in the field, (A), and multiply it by the probable rate of failure, (B), then multiply the result by the average out-of-court settlement, (C). A times B times C equals X…”

What we have here is the number of people who pay for a coupon (A), times the number of people who simply pay the surrender price (B), divided by the number of people who raise hell when they recognize the scam (C) . . . and, well, you get it. Apparently enough people pay the ransom after they’ve realized they’ve been suckered by a business, and the ruse continues with AmazonLocal’s blessing and backing.

I don’t really create advertising. It seems so desperate. I brand. I dress the date, I don’t scribe cocktail innuendo and double entendre to make the big dinner easier to pay for in anticipation of an unlikely away-couch inside-the-park home run. My job isn’t to convince consumers to spend, but to make businesses feel good in their own skin.

Maybe I should create a coupon for my business? “I’ll brand you for $49!” Then I’ll tell people when they come to my office that it doesn’t include a logo, or language, or website, or photography, or anything really, just the expectations of owning a great-looking company.

  1. What a sham. The saddest part is the poor unfortunates who do not realize they’re being duped and end up funding these type of jerks!

  2. I’m always amazed at how you manage to take so much information and lay it out in a linear fashion…all the while being ironic AND funny. I’ve missed seeing you around and hope you are very well…

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