Are We Too Accepting of Information?

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012 at 11:38 AM | Category: Business, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Shopping 5 comments

Even with all the gadgets I have and time I spend on the computer, I still look forward to reading the print edition of my local newspaper every morning. Recently, I saw an ad in the paper from a hypermarket (combination of grocery and department stores) that I’ll call CubeMart.

Normally, I don’t pay attention to ads, but this full-paged ad caught my eye because it’s misleading. The ad shows a customer’s shopping list and compares her receipt from two stores. What store first comes to mind that would be CubeMart’s competitor? Bull’s eye. It’d be another hypermarket.

Not in this ad. CubeMart decided to compare itself with a drug retailer that I’ll call CubeGreens. If there was ever a time to use the apple and oranges cliché, this is it. Both serve different purposes. I shop at those two stores in very different ways. When I go to the drug retailer, it’s usually to pick up a couple of items or grab things on sale. It’s walking distance from my house, so it comes in handy during an illness.

I certainly wouldn’t buy pull ups at the drugstore — not because I don’t have kids that need them — but because they’re almost always overpriced. Pull ups, laundry detergent, snacks, toiletries, medicine, plastic bags and nine other items appear in the two store receipts CubeMart used to show the customer would’ve saved 15 percent had she chosen CubeMart.

Even if CubeMart had used a direct competitor in the ad, I notice the fine print says prices may include special prices good through a certain date and they may not be representative of prices in other stores of the two chains. And, of course, it covers itself by saying that prices at CubeGreens may have changed.

This is a simple example of how companies can skew data to tell a story that reflects positively on their brand. Here’s another example. Every year, a popular news magazine publishes a list of the best schools in the U.S. Dig deeper and you’ll find plenty of stories reporting problems with the data used to create the list.

Many accept information without questioning them. This also happens with expert commentary, encyclopedias (both famous encyclopedias have published errors) and wordgraphics. (I call them that because they’re too wordy to be true infographics).

We’re overloaded with information, but we don’t have time to question it all. It requires we change how we absorb information and what we do with it.

Most of the time believing reported information is harmless. If a customer believed CubeMart’s ad and switched (still apples and oranges), the worst that can happen is the customer doesn’t save as much as money as she could have at the real competitor’s store.

When should we believe or verify the information we receive? How do we know what sources to trust?

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