I used to participate with network marketing, where I would write ad copy (the ad text) or articles supporting certain business ventures or products. Some of you may have even read it and not known it. However, I am unable to really get into which companies I wrote copy/articles for. Because of this, I rarely buy into any of the advertisements that I see, and as a student of psychology, have the unique experience of applying my education to understanding how they advertisement is attempting to affect the consumer, i.e. my family or me.
With this said, there are few products that I would buy without just seeing it at the store and wanting to try it, or buy it, based off of personal experience of family reviews. There are a few items though, that I would be interested in getting for our family. Before our new refrigerator with a built in water filtration system, a water purifier was one of those items. In the 1980s, Norelco advertised a water purification system that apparently leeched a harmful carcinogen from the filter into the water that people would drink (Federal Trade Commission , 1987; Associated Press, 1988).
This example of advertising does not illustrate ethical business conduct. Norelco implied that their product made tap water safer and cleaner to drink. However, they knowingly utilized a product that leeched a carcinogenic substance into the water that it ‘purified’. These carcinogens could have caused thousands of consumers to develop cancer, or other illnesses due to the chemicals used in their product.
Even though Norelco knew of the dangerous chemicals leeching from the filters into the filtered water, they continued to sell these purifiers. Granted they did eventually pull the product from the shelves of retailers; however, they never informed any of the consumers of the hazards of using their product. This lead to the eventual suit by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
This advertisement did not utilize sex or money as motivating factor for a consumer to purchase their product. However, they did play to the pathos of the consumer through the text of their ad copy. While I never found an advertisement for this product, I did find a quotation of the ad’s claims as follows:
“The Norelco Clean Water Machine helps remove chlorine, sediment, sulfur, detergent, odors, organic chemicals, and other pollutants you may not even be aware of that are in your tap water,” and “Helps make tap water ‘bottled water’ clean” (Federal Trade Commission , 1987, paragraph four).
This gives the consumer the impression that both this product could make their lives better/healthier, and that their existing tap water was unhealthy/unclean.
Some business types might argue that Norelco never ‘crossed the line’ with this type of advertising. Had they had a truly effective product that did not contaminate their customer’s drinking water with toxins, the advertisement would possibly even have legitimate value. The main problem with the ad, or promises of that ad copy, is that Norelco attempted to instill feelings of trust in their consumer base, and then poisoned them for using their product without disclosing the fact that the filters would release toxins into their drinking water.
I could never imagine finding out that our water filters were poisoning us. In our family, we use filtered water, and used bottled water up until last fall. I could only imagine the devastation that we would have felt had one of us become sick from cancer or other illnesses as a result of trying to live healthier. The FTC eventually fined Norelco and its parent company due to unethical business practice and causing potential harm for their customers. But how much is a family member worth? Better practices should be considered initially and it would save both the entrepreneur and the consumer a considerable amount of grief.
Associated Press. (1988, November 2). Norelco Advertising Faulted. Retrieved from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/1988/11/02/us/norelco-advertising-faulted.html
Federal Trade Commission . (1987, August 4). FTC charges that maker of Norelco water cleaner failed to disclose the product adds a potentially hazardous chemical into the water. Retrieved from Federal Trade Commission : http://www.ftc.gov/opa/predawn/F87/norelco2.txt