Know When You’re Being Ripped Off by “Sort-of” Lie Marketing


It is becoming easier to identify straightforward brazen lying that used to pass for Marketing. Companies are learning it is harder to make bold false proclamations when empowered customers pick their claims apart and post reviews and opinions on the internet, where their voices are louder than ever.

The thing that has been bugging me lately, though, is the “sort-of” lies that are not so easy to spot. One of the top offenders, to me, is big box stores like Target (I am not picking on Target specifically; I could easily interchange “Target” for any big-box name). They post large, colorful banners around their stores to remind us to feel good about shopping there because they donate 5% of every sale to charity.

Many people are oblivious to the fact that Target donating millions of dollars to charity is a “sort-of” lie that probably has little to do with altruism or philanthropy (neither of which deserves defending, but still, it is what is assumed in their marketing efforts…).

It is a “sort-of” lie because many assumptions must be sheepishly accepted for us to believe Target really donates 5% of each sale to a charitable cause. Customers, at their peril, must be savvy enough to ask questions and recognize non-congruence where it exists.

For example, Target giving money to charity, through me, is vastly different from me giving to a charity directly.

When I donate to charity, it costs me something (money and time, usually). It is a donation to charity because it exhibits a sacrifice on my end. I do not, for example, take YOUR money, give it to charity, and say I donated. I can not add 5% to the salary from my employer, funnel that money wherever I choose, call it a donation, and market it as my generosity. In other words, I can not force you or my employer, or anyone else, to pay my charities.

People should be bothered that no one is bothered about businesses or government agencies forcing you to donate to charity regardless of your will. At the very least, people should be loudly asking these “charitable” companies:

—Does that charitable 5% come from the gross sale, net sale, or 5% of the wholesale cost of each transaction? Is it taken before or after taxes are paid to my city and state?

—What kind of tax breaks or incentives do you enjoy with my charitable “donation”?

—What charity am I “donating” to? Where, exactly, is my money going? Are political parties considered charities? How about non-profits, churches, or organizations with political associations to lobbyists or political activism? Am I being forced to donate to an organization not aligned with my values?

—Since you (Target) are not actually “donating” your money but are instead funneling my money, can I choose where it goes? Can I pick the charity for my 5%?

—Can I choose not to donate as part of the price of your products? Can I instead just have a fair price for the product I came to buy (since I did not come to involuntarily donate money to a cause I may not support or to a group I am not familiar with)?

Target (or any company) taking your money to support their causes is a sort-of lie, at best.

5% seems like no big deal, until you consider all the “sort-of” lie donations you involuntarily make every day. Almost every big box store forces customers to pay for their charitable contributions. Most big companies do, as well. Check the fine print on your cereal box, soup can label, cat litter, or whatever products you buy. How much of the money you worked so hard to earn so that you could better your own life, is taken as a “gift” to others you do not know and may not wish to support? How many non-profit CEO salaries do you subsidize each year?

If every store and product stopped forcing donations, I wonder what percentage of salary would be returned to the public. Would my income increase by 1%, 5% (more than the average annual raise of 3%—not a bad chunk of change), or even more? Not only would I have more of my income returned, but if I chose, I could donate the full amount available to me to a single charity of my choosing—one that is really important to me. Not to mention, the tax benefit of my donation would also be returned to me, and the money would likely be spent in my locale (as opposed to “donating” my tax dollars to Target’s shareholders and CEO to spend where they live; my guess is that my community needs it more).

Forced Charity is just one example of the “sort-of” lie, and perhaps that is the scariest part. What is the impact of all the “sort-of” lies imposed by big business? (A business does not have to be big to give half-truths, of course, but it is easier to hide shady practices in a big box set-up than in a Mom and Pop family business where the owners likely reside in the same neighborhood as the business.)

As much as possible I choose to shop at local mom-and-pop stores, and eat at locally owned restaurants, preferably those where I have established personal rapport with the staff and owners. There is a greater likelihood of honesty about where the money comes from and where it goes.

There is nothing wrong with making a profit; that is the point of owning a business, but making a “sort-of” profit and sort-of swindle should be called out for what it is, and soundly rejected.

Choose local. Ask where your money goes. Read product labels and call, write, or e-mail big box stores and companies that force you to delegate the money you earned to improve your own life or circumstances. Most of all, be outraged and express your outrage in appropriate form to your state representatives.

Watch out for the “sort-of” lie, whether it comes with legitimate good intentions or not, it is still a lie and you do not have to sanction it.


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