Deception in Marketing: Part II

Don’t forget to read up on Part I and Part III.


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“an individual’s beliefs regarding the terms and conditions of a reciprocal exchange agreement between that focal person and another party. Key issues here include the belief that a promise has been made and a consideration offered in exchange for it, binding the parties to some set of reciprocal obligations” (p. 123).

While Rousseau’s research dealt with employee-employer PCs, the applications are so much broader. The PC really revolves around shared values and shared expectations. For example, in an employee-employer PC the employee expects to be compensated for his/her work. Meanwhile the employer expects the employee to produce work that contributes to the growth of the company. If the employee performs, then he/she will be compensated.

And that’s a rudimentary example of a PC! But immediately, it is easy to see that the PC has no real boundaries. As time passes this particular PC will evolve, expand, and in some cases contract.


Consider this, when a consumer is satisfied with your business’ performance, they will then become confident in your business’ future performance and through this ongoing satisfaction, consumers develop a trust and commitment towards your organization (Chih, Chiu, Lan, & Fang, 2017). As a business you might simply recognize prosperity and growth, but remember the PC is the vehicle for which that success arrives on. We generally refer to this as customer loyalty.

When a relationship is nurtured, you create a positive feedback loop which perpetuates this continued success. If you are an ethical and trustworthy business, then you are already forming these powerful and constructive PCs. But if you’re not, well…consider this quote:

“Trust, once you get it. It’s priceless. But once you lose it, you are useless.”-Unknown


  1. Fraud: Failure to deliver the product purchased (e.g., actual quality deception, selling counterfeit products).
  2. Product Misrepresentation: Delivery of an item that is different from the one described in the product advertisement.
  3. Contract Default: Refusal to accept payment and to send the product.
  4. Product Delivery Delay: Failure to use the shipping method promised and to send the product in a timely manner.
  5. Product Guarantees: Offering a return or a refund policy and then failing to acknowledge product guarantees.
  6. Payment Policy: Refusal to follow the payment policy and accept certain forms of payment.

The research underscores what we already know to be true; that consumers rely on both trust and perceived risk when forming transaction intentions (Pavlou and Gefen, 2004). To be clear, these six proposed sources are not exhaustive, nor are they mutually exclusive. But they are representative of what commonly causes PC breach for the consumer.


Let’s consider this marketing mailer, from the sender’s perspective I’m sure it seemed like a great idea at the time. But if we consider it from the recipient’s perspective this illusion slowly reveals itself to be more deceptive, fraudulent.

Think back to that magic show scene in The Prestige. I think we can all agree that magic tricks are inherently deceptive. At their very core they are fraudulent, fake, falsifications of reality. But bear with me here, let’s build a connection between the Chung Ling Soo character and the concept of PCs. Now, recall what Rousseau said about psychological contracts. She said that it was the individual’s beliefs and the reciprocal exchange agreement between two parties that are most important to forming the contract.

So let’s say you attend a magic show; you expect there to be deception and illusion. This is probably one of the few areas in life where you actually welcome it, you anticipate it! You want to be duped, that’s part of the fun. But it only works because of who the audience is, and because of the setting that it is taking place in. This is important for the magician to understand, and its equally important for a business to understand as well. In business, your audience isn’t expecting illusion. You can’t subvert the consumer’s expectations for the sake of marketing a product. You can’t deceive the consumer into their call to action. It’s cheap, lazy, damaging to all businesses, and undignified.


So in the short-term while a PC breach caused by another company will certainly hurt that company, it can actually make your job more difficult in the long-term. Consumers withhold trust in all enterprises and everybody ends up losing. So if you are concerned about things such as Net Promoter Score, Brand Reputation, or Customer Loyalty maybe it’s time you took an honest look at your existing marketing strategies. Are you the problem?


  • Appear deceptive
  • Violate PC’s
  • Favor revenue over consumer experience

I’m big into taking on the perspective of the consumer, because in today’s market that’s all that really matters. Our services and products are all so similar, that it becomes difficult to really differentiate yourself. Engaging the consumer in a truly personal and relevant way is one of the few ways to differentiate. Check back in a few days and we’ll do a walk-through of the mailer and discuss some ways that we can improve the design so that it might enhance the end-user’s experience.


Pavlou, P. A., & Gefen, D. (2004). Building Effective Online Marketplaces with Institution-Based Trust. Information Systems Research, 15(1), 37–59. doi:10.1287/isre.1040.0015

Pavlou, P. A., & Gefen, D. (2005). Psychological Contract Violation in Online Marketplaces: Antecedents, Consequences, and Moderating Role. Information Systems Research, 16(4), 372–399. doi:10.1287/isre.1050.0065

Rousseau, D. M. (1989). Psychological and implied contracts in organizations. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 2, 121−139.

Taleb, N. N. (2012). Antifragile: Things that gain from disorder. London: Penguin Books.

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