This morning, my wife was watching the movie "Season of the Witch". Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman were fighting in the Crusades. With each stroke of their swords, their enemies fell dead.
The inconvenient truth that nearly all movie makers ignore is that people don't die instantly when cut or stabbed. In real life, if our stars were to deliver a single blow per person and move on, they'd have an entire army of bleeding enemies hacking at their backs. And the movie wouldn't have been rated PG-13. Probably not even R.
As audiences, we gladly accept inaccurate depictions of sword battles, because it keeps the action moving and spares us sights we don't want to see.
But what about in marketing? Can we gloss over inconvenient truths that would make our products harder to sell?
Inaccurate portrayals of some inconvenient truths are commonplace in our industry. Not everyone (or more likely, hardly anyone) will make $5,132.87 per month using the latest easy button de jour. That fat check the vendor is holding in the picture wasn't earned using the techniques the product teaches. Nobody can guarantee you a first page listing in Google.
ClickBank, where a lot of these inconvenient truths have been routinely ignored, is cracking down hard on these practices (assuming they're serious this time, which I believe they are). The FTC, VISA, MasterCard, and others have too.
Clearly, there are some inconvenient truths that are unethical and/or illegal to ignore.
On the other hand, when you sell a software product, do you need to disclose in the sales letter that it's going to take up 300MB of hard drive space? That it takes 25 minutes to install? That the color fades if it's exposed to direct sunlight for more the 17 minutes at a time? That the batteries will last for 11 hours?
Some things are just irrelevant minutia. Some things can be discussed in the owners manual. Like the realism that's left out of movies, sometimes the consumer is better off when we don't make them slog through every possible detail.
For the most part, it's easy to recognize the difference between inconvenient truths that should be disclosed and too much information. Where we run into trouble is when unethical practices become commonplace. Those who don't pause to think sometimes accept them the way we usually accept instantaneous deaths in movie sword battles.
Yesterday, Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz released a video claiming that most article marketing is a scam.
Most of the commenters on the site agreed. But not all. (If you disagree, watch the video to see what he's referring to as "article marketing".)
That's why it's important for us, from time to time, to share our views on unethical practices, even if we think the truth is obvious. It's not obvious to everyone. If we leave them to learn their marketing ethics from "the movies", not only will they be unprepared for the real world, but they'll reinforce the illusions by making them more common.
For a more in depth discussion of this subject, see my Internet Marketing Ethics Manifesto.