Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Bad Argument: Association Propaganda

Almost all sorts of advertisement (a form of propaganda) use association.

Alcohol ads usually use beautiful women, dancing to music, flashy cars, and so on. There's also the "AXE" product's frequent association with sex, or Marlboro cigarette's association with cowboy, the West, and freedom.

But what exactly is association? An attempt to associate (relate) two separate things that normally have NO relations with each other, usually by evoking an emotional response such as lust, guilt, pity, and so on.

If you hang out with the rich and famous, you look good by association (unless of course, you're merely hired help).

MLM companies, most having almost no name recognition (i.e. reputation) to stand on (there are very few exceptions, such as Amway, and maybe Herbalife, and NuSkin) must rely on association to get their point across, and when such association are made through merely implication, or outright FRAUD, the result can be devastating to its affiliates.

False associations are easy to make, and can often be misinterpreted by affiliates, who has confirmation bias to interpret any information they receive as somehow confirming their choice.

Some of the ways association can be used to mislead are as follows:
  • Implied endorsements -- put a couple quotes by certain celebrities, chop them so they *seem* to say something about your entire industry (or your company), and let the affiliates claim "So-and-so said nice things about Acme. So-and-so wouldn't associate himself with a scam, so Acme can't be a scam."  When challenged, explain (verbal only) that the quote was misconstrued and blame the affiliates for "misunderstanding".
  • Implied legality -- hire some lawyers and consultants for review of your company for compliance, but don't do anything, let the affiliates claim "Acme hired so-and-so, how can they NOT be legal?"  Never  mind the fact that the lawyer could be reviewing some OTHER parts of the company, or had the lawyer had previously been chastised by the court for giving bogus testimony. Also see "implied endorsements" above.
  • Implied legitimacy through physical or virtual address -- get a virtual office or shared office space somewhere that sounds impressive, put that on website, then put up the picture of the whole building, not your specific office, as if you own the whole place, and let the affiliates claim, "This is one impressive place, thus Acme must be legitimate."  Never mind you don't even have a real physical presence.
  • Implied legitimacy through longevity -- claim you have X years of experience in this niche, and somehow that implies you really know what you're talking about, so the affiliates can claim "Acme has been in business 15 years! They must be legit!" Turns out Acme wasn't really in business for 15 years.... just you.
  • Implied legitimacy through consistent payouts -- claim that you never missed paying affiliates in 10 years would make the affiliates really warm and fuzzy, never mind that the whole thing is a Ponzi scheme. Affiliates claim "They have paid me and others, they must be legit."  Bernie Madoff did it, and Paul Burks did it. They are scammers. 
There are many other examples of false associations where there was IMPLIED association between two items (unverified information and legitimacy) when there aren't any. Similar forced associations can be used to "justify" the cost of certain nutritional supplements or other sorts of "woo". 

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