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Recognizing Marketing Deception (Fraud?) Before Becoming a Victim

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Lately, I’ve been hearing a certain radio ad bombarding the metro-NYC news station I enjoy listening to. The reason I like this station is simple: It’s intelligent, it’s interesting and it broadcasts the John Sterling/Susan Waldman Yankee commentary during the season’s games.

However, this particular radio ad strikes me as so full of misleading marketing language that I bristle every time it plays. Not only does it give my profession a bad reputation, but it may be tricking thousands of ingenuous consumers into signing up and becoming victims of what I almost consider fraud. But, too cleverly manipulative for that, it probably can’t even be found guilty of deception since every statement made is true. But it definitely is misleading unsuspecting listeners to interpret these “true” statements as good reason to respond to the ad and commit to the advertised service, only to discover later the naïveté of their gullible decision to do so.

Let me explain: The ad begins as an announcement in an authoritative tone that claims it can save American car owners thousands of dollars in car repair bills. As long as you have fewer than 200,000 miles on your car (as most people do), you will never have to pay for a car repair bill out of your own pocket again! The advertiser will pay it for you. If you’re sick and tired of spending your hard-earned money on car repairs, call to see if you qualify! (This puts the onus on you to prove you are one of the eligible fewer-than-200,000-mile car owners who can take advantage of this advertising deception to trick you into buying.)

You can even keep your own mechanic or your own car repair service and have the advertiser pay the bills for you. This includes all of the most advanced auto technology repairs you may ever need! (Again, they say this to throw you off course so you think about what kinds of repairs your car may need now or in the future and whether you will qualify.) So far, everything they have said with the possible exception of “saving you thousands of dollars” has been true. That is until you read between the lines.

No, you won’t be spending your hard-earned money on the car repair bill. Instead, you will be spending your hard-earned money to pay them a fee to represent you and pay your car repair bill for you. And while they claim you can save lots of money, you may actually be paying more by making them the middlemen. After all, they are in business to make money. They won’t be doing this for nothing. And how can they be paying for these expensive radio ads on such a powerful New York station? Only through responses from hundreds of unsuspecting customers who sign up in droves.

So what do you get out of it? Maybe lots of trouble if you sign a contract, and fail to pay their fee, and who knows what else! Probably they make it seem like they are providing you with a great service by guaranteeing they will pay for your car repair on your old clunker (with fewer than 200,000 miles) which allows you to keep driving and hopefully going to work (if you still have a job) while they wait for you to cover the bill (possibly late) with interest!

I am guessing about all of the finer details but you can see the risks I am pointing out. I can remember hearing about a similar fraudulent attempt being made by another auto payment company in the last couple of years that was being distributed through the mail. I later received a series of telemarketing calls about it. Now, I am hearing this ad for a different company on the radio. Could it be the same organization just operating under a different name? And ironically, as quickly as I recognized it, suddenly I no longer hear it, which may also be part of their formula: to run it for a short time to amass new customers and then disappear into thin air, so to speak. These are the kinds of questions I ask, since I am naturally suspicious of marketing claims that raise these kinds of red flags.

The concept is very much like the service a credit card offers: you pay with plastic and then you pay the credit card company with interest for their generosity in letting you pay over time. But we all know the enormous risk that involves, as a nation and a world, with unsolvable economic problems everywhere you look! If you are one of the unfortunate people who have lost the privilege of using any or all of your many credit cards, this car repair payment service ad may sound pretty appealing, particularly if old Bertha is making horrible noises and jeopardizing your commute. But I urge you to tread carefully and carry a big stick.

So what exactly are the laws concerning deceptive advertising, anyway? According to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Bureau of Consumer Protection, there are three attributes which determine whether an advertisement is false or unfair:

1. If it offends public policy;

2. If it is immoral, unethical, oppressive, or unscrupulous; or,

3. if it substantially injures consumers.

This last point is considered the most important in weighing whether the advertisement is false or unfair, with customer injury normally based on loss of money as a result of a purchase which would never have been made had the advertisement not been misleading in the first place. False statements are determined by whether they are false on face value; or whether they are implicitly false. In my opinion, the above radio ad may be making a blatantly false claim by saying it can save you enormous sums of money if you use their service. However, with a clever twist of interpretation, that statement could be considered true if they attribute your savings to be from payments made directly to the car repair vendors.

If you are not paying your mechanic directly for your car repairs, you are essentially saving that money. However, you will need to use that “saved” money to pay the car repair payment company who will pay your mechanic for you, regardless of how deceptively they are advertising their service. Does this strike you as ethical? Furthermore, I believe the ad says “can save you” as opposed to “will save you” which implies there may be other conditions involved which you must fulfill in order to assure that their claim can deliver as stated.

Based on complaints the FTC receives, there are some consistent themes which emerge, most frequently about undisclosed costs and conditions. Responsible radio advertisers avoid legal problems by simply adding a statement like “Restrictions may apply,” while some over-zealous advertisers devote a good percentage of the radio ad time to spell out in detail a long rant of disclosures delivered at warp speed making it virtually impossible to understand what is being said. Depending on space available, the FTC advises advertisers using visual media to disclose details “clearly and conspicuously.” If space is limited, perhaps the 3-word disclaimer mentioned previously can suffice, but tiny type and deliberately ambiguous terminology is frowned upon.

What the FTC allows or regulates seems to be a somewhat gray area with decisions dependent on whether the ad is national or regional in scope; whether it represents an industry regulated by another branch of government (such as airlines, banks, insurance companies, common carriers, and companies that sell securities and commodities); or whether it can be resolved by some other more local agency like the Better Business Bureau. As stated previously, of most vital importance to the FTC seems to be issues involving consumer injury, whether to “health, safety or wallet.”

Penalties for non-compliance can be stiff ranging from a simple “cease and desist” order which if not obeyed properly escalates to a sum of $16,000 per day for further infractions; to fines reaching into the millions of dollars when appropriate, sometimes requiring refunds to consumers affected by the offending ad; to running new ads and contacting purchasers to correct the previously deceptive information.

If an ad has hurt you in some way as a result of deceptive practices, you have the right to complain to the FTC as well as contact a lawyer. If the offensive ad is far-reaching enough, your case may be considered suitable for a class action suit, involving many plaintiffs in addition to yourself. Be aware, however, that regardless of how noble your attorneys’ representation may seem in such cases, it is usually the lawyers who benefit most in class action suits.

What if you think an ad from a competitor of yours is deceptive? You have a few options, some or all of which you can pursue:

1. You can contact a lawyer to explore whether you should sue for unfair competition by making deceptive claims in ads.

2. You can file a complaint with the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, which investigates and resolves such disputes on both a national and regional basis.

3. If the ad is local, you can contact your local Better Business Bureau to file a complaint.

4. You can contact the print or broadcast medium where the ad ran to report your suspicion about the deceptive nature of the ad.

5. You can contact your state Attorney General’s Office or your city, county, or state Office of Consumer Affairs to report the issue.

6. Finally, you can contact the Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Response Center, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580; or call: toll-free 1-877-FTC-HELP.

As a word of advice from a marketing expert, if you are an advertiser utilizing techniques of vagueness, or worse, duplicity, to camouflage the full truth of your message, keep this in mind:

“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.” – Benjamin Franklin

Translation: An unhappy customer will share his unpleasant experience not only with his friends and family, but also will spread the bad word about you on blogs, forums and chat rooms, giving your company a negative reputation you will never be able to live down in today’s Google-dominated universe. If your advertising misdeed was unintentional, it will be far less expensive to try to win back the loyalty of one dissatisfied customer with a valid complaint than to try to weather the devastating winter of his discontent.

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Teaching Styles: Guide on the Side or Sage on the Stage?

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In the early 90’s California teachers were getting released in record numbers. There was a huge budget crisis, districts were raising class sizes and eliminating classrooms, which meant many of us had to go. I was a second year teacher, untenured. I received my goodbye notice in March then set out scrambling to find another position.

I found myself interviewing in the growing community of Moreno Valley. I felt I was ready for anything, but I’ll never forget the interviewer asking my about my style of teaching. He asked, “Would you consider yourself a Sage on the Stage or a Guide on the Side?”

What a great question. Simply asking the question implies so much. If I say that I am a Sage on the Stage, immediately I might be considered a micromanager. A power hungry control freak of a teacher who needs his/her students to act only on command. Or even worse, I might be seen as a showoff whose main goal in teaching is to hear ones’ own voice.

As I sat in the interview room, it seemed the more politically correct answer would be the Guide on the Side. “Guide” doesn’t seem like such a loaded word as “Sage”. A guide leads the way. A guide points out facts. Guides know what pitfalls to avoid.

I had to make a snap answer. It’s been almost two decades, and I still think about my response. I expected that in time, I would make revisions to my answer. Surprisingly, I feel still feel good about the response I gave.

Basically, I believe that there are times when a teacher needs to be the Sage on the Stage and times when the teacher needs to get out of the way and be a guide on the side. Additionally, I’ve seen very effective teachers who can work a class, create amazing discussions, and help students construct learning all from the front of the class. By contrast, I’ve seen other teachers who spend very little time in front of a class, choosing to do most of their teaching in groups. Therefore, the situation and the personality of the teacher play a great role in the debate: Sage on the Stage or Guide on the Side.

Reflecting on the question “Sage” or “Guide” is not a bad idea. My philosophy in teaching, as well as life, has always been balance and moderation. There have been times when I’ve been stuck in the Sage or Guide roll for longer than is necessary. Just asking yourself the question might lead to some meaningful soul searching and deeper understanding about yourself as a person and a teacher.

The Merits and Demerits of the Sage on the Stage

There are definite merits to the Sage on the Stage approach. The teacher on his/her stage, managing the flow of information is definitely faster than the Guide on the Side. I’ve tried to incorporate “guide on the side” strategies for my grammar lessons, but I’ve found that direct instruction works best when introducing initial concepts. I may use “guide” strategies to aid mastery of the information. However, there are dozens of grammar and punctuation skills the students are required to learn in ten months which does not lend itself to the Guide on the Side philosophy.

This benefit is also the biggest argument against the Sage approach. As more and more demands are heaped upon teachers, it is easier to get through the curriculum with this method. However, besides being exhausting for the teacher to be on the stage all day, students require time to digest and process information. Sage techniques such as lecture and group discussion tend to favor the quick thinkers. These students do most of the critical thinking for the class. Consequently, the majority of the class misses out on this important skill.

The Merits and Demerits of the Guide on the Side

I recently began a sixth grade unit on the Hebrew’s exodus from Egypt like this:

Imaging that you were a guest in someone’s house. After a few weeks, you realized that you were doing all the chores in the house, your mom was cooking all of the meals, and your dad began to pay all of the bills. You were once a guest in this house. Now, what have you become?

The students had to read the material from their social studies books and explain how the Hebrews were like your family in the story. The connections they found were excellent. The follow up discussion continued to bear fruit as one group after another pointed out new ways to look at the analogy. I was a guide on the side, interjecting hints along the way.

The follow up to this was that the students had to create the second part of my “guest” analogy. They read about Moses and the Exodus and had to create an analogy about how they were able to move out of the house where they had become slaves.

The lesson was time consuming, but very effective. As effective as it was, I noticed that there were still things that I needed to teach the students directly. Many students, having no background knowledge on the topic, needed me to put this time in history into context. Once again, I was back to being the Sage on the Stage.

Final Thoughts

The moral of this story is that the art of teaching is knowing when to be the “guide” and when to be the “sage”. Once again I return to my original point: Simply asking yourself the question “What Kind of Teacher Am I?” is enough to help make you a better teacher. Being ever mindful of the balance between the two provides the opportunity for the self-reflection we all need.

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Greatest Ever Barcelona XI

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Like many of the best teams in the world, its almost impossible to have just 1 team as a greatest XI. Barcelona arguably have had the biggest turnover of superstars to have played for the club. You have a who’s who of football to have turned out for the club. I could quite easily go for 3 teams for this great club, but I have settled for 2 teams.

Goal Keeper

Like most attacking sides, they have not had the very best goal keepers to have kept goal for them, so I have gone for Andoni Zubizaretta. He is Spain’s most capped player with 126 caps and was a very good goalkeeper.

Right full back

I have gone for Albert Ferrer, who was part of the first “dream team”. He was a very good defender as well as being excellent in going forward.

Left full back

I have gone for another member of the so called dream team, Sergi Barjuan. He was very identical in play to Ferrer as they were both quick, great on the ball and he could defend very competently.

Central defenders

I have gone for Miguel Nadal and Carlos Puyol. Both excellent players and whilst Nadal was known as “the beast”, he was very good on the ball. Puyol always gives his all in every game that I have seen him play.

Midfield

I have gone for a 4-man midfield comprising of 4 all-time greats of the game in Michael Laudrup, Johan Cruyff, Luiz Suarez and Laslo Kubala. Michael Laudrup was a wizard with the ball and perhaps did not get the world renown that his talents deserved, partly to do with the fact that he was Danish. Cruyff is a living legend and his reputation goes before him. Suarez is arguably the greatest ever talent to come out of Spain whilst Kubala was voted Barcelona’s greatest ever player.

Forwards

I have gone for Diego Maradona and Romario. I have read too many times that Maradona was not successful at Barcelona, but that’s comparing him to himself and not by any other player’s standards. I have seen matches that he was involved in at Barcelona and he was breathtaking at times. Romario was just a born goal scorer.

Team 2

Goal keeper

I have gone for Francisco Platko, the Hungarian, whom, I have to admit I have never seen play but he is reported to be very good and I did not that many options.

Defenders

This time I have gone for 3 defenders and they are Jose Ramon Alesanco who captained the club for a long period of time and was a very good defender and leader, Ronald Koeman, okay, he was not a very good defender in terms of actual defending and maybe he would just pip a tortoise in a 100 metre sprint, but he could pass the ball like no other and had a shot on him to die for. He also scored 1 of the most memorable goals in the club’s history, when he scored the winning goal at Wembley, against Sampdoria for Barcelona to win their first ever European Cup. The third defender is Migueli who played for Barcelona from 1973 to 1989.

Midfield

I have gone for a 5-man midfield comprising another array of wonderful footballers. The first is Luis Figo, whom I felt played his best football at Barcelona and he was absolutely terrific. Whilst teammate, Rivaldo, was getting all the plaudits, Figo. I felt was the best player. The second midfielder was a mainstay of Cruyff’s dream team and that was Pep Guardiola, who was one of the best playmakers, I have ever seen. Injuries blighted a bit what should have been a superlative career. Ronaldinho is my third midfielder as he is truly majestic and surely, even at this stage in his career, already an all-time great. The next is his Brazilian compatriot, Rivaldo who will always be remembered fondly at the Nou camp for scoring, perhaps, the greatest hat-trick ever, against Valencia, which enabled Barcelona to qualify for the champion’s league, on the last day of that particular season 2000/2001. Last but not least, I have chosen volatile but brilliant Bulgarian attacking midfielder/forward, Hristo Stoichkov. Stoichkov had a seemingly love-hate relationship with equally brilliant and equally volatile Romario. One minute they are hugging each other for setting up the other for another brilliant goal and the next minute they are sniping at each other because one of feels that the other did not pass the ball to him.

Strikers

I have gone for the absolutely brilliant Brazilian Ronaldo and Sandor Koscis.

I know I said I will only pick 2 teams but way too many players that I like have not been picked because just too many greats played for Barcelona, so I have managed to squeeze in a third team

Goalkeeper

For Goalkeeper, I have gone for Antoni Ramalletts who played for Barcelona in the 40s to 60s and won the best goalkeeper award for 5 consecutive seasons in the 50s

Defenders

I have gone for Abelardo Fernandez, a very capable defender who always gave his best, Juan Asensi who was also a very good defender for both Barcelona and Spain and Eric Gensana.

Midfield

I have gone for Bernd Schuster, the current manager, who was a brilliant midfielder and should have won far more caps for West Germany, if not for his bad relationship with the West German FA. Luis Enrique, one of my favourite players with his all-action style and loads of goals to boot. For a midfielder, he scored a fair amount of goals. Allan Simonsen, the brilliant Dane, who was European footballer of the year in 1977. Johan Neeskens, the current assistant manager, who was a wonderful midfield player.

Strikers

I have gone for a 3-prong attack and they are Paulino Alcantara who though I have never seen play scored 357 goals in 357 matches, now that is impressive. Josep Samiter who scored 326 goals for Barcelona and Hans Krankl just edging out Samuel Etoo and Patrick Kluivert.

Some of the players that I have not mentioned include the present crop of players like Rafa Marquez, Thuram, Xavi, Deco, Messi, Zambrotta and past greats and good like Hagi, Prosinescki, Laurent Blanc, Gica Popescu, Carles Rexach, Jari Littmanen, both De Boers, Cocu, Laarsson, Mark Hughes, Lineker, Beguiristain, Goikoietxea, Edgar Davids, Riqueleme and Sorin amongst others.

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5 Simple Steps to Be a Media Star

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This series of articles are focused on how to become known as an expert. Today we will focus on how to gain media attention.

Dale Carnegie said in his famous book – How To Win Friends and Influence People, “babies cry for and grown men die for”. We all want attention and recognition. We seek media attention to get our name splashed in newspapers, radio and TV. Not only is it something we personally want but it is also a great strategy to gain expert status and get clients.

I have been written up in print, interviewed on radio and TV. Did you know one appearance on TV can catapult you into fame and launch your career into the stratosphere? Fawn Germer, who I recently hear speak, was featured on Oprah. She has leveraged it to the hilt. We all know what can happen if you are seen on The Oprah Show. Businesses become hugely successful and a million books are sold! Dr. Phil and Dr. OZ started as guests on The Oprah Show. Now they have their own shows.

So how do you get attention of the media?

Here are 5 simple strategies:

  1. Find an angle that will appeal to the media: It is quite easy to look up what current stories are already being covered in the media. Just find an angle to latch on to the story. It is not enough to say that you are a chiropractor or a massage therapist. What is new, unique or newsworthy about your profession?
  2. Prepare you story: Once you know the angle, create a pitch that is easy for you to communicate. Human interest stories are featured all the time. Pick a struggle and how you or a client overcame that struggle.
  3. Get a list of reporters: Today it is easier to find reporters on the internet. Social media has made reporters and journalists much more accessible. Pick the target market you want to focus on and find the reporters who cover such stories.
  4. Call or email them: Depending on the information you have and how timely it is, you can just pick up the phone and call the reporter. Make sure you are aware of simple protocols. TV, radio and print media – all have different strategies in collecting and sharing information. Pay attention to when and how you should approach the media.
  5. Build a relationship: I consistently write comments to the reporters. You will be amazed how many of them will reply back. Make it a habit to communicate with them so you can be recognized. Today the media is required to build a following and be in touch with their audience.

These simple and effective strategies will help you start moving towards being a media star.

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