Marketing has created a “catch culture.” Don’t worry too much if you aren’t sure what a “catch culture” is, because I’ve just made it up. Every day we find “the catch” lurking in shadowy corners, crouching behind the most glorious of offers. After we sign on the dotted line we discover that whatever the large print has given us, “the catch” eventually comes along to take it away. Here are some samples of “the catch”:
“FREE with your purchase.”
There’s a catch.
“May cause dizziness, diarrhea, or death.”
There’s a big catch.
“But wait, there’s more.”
There’s a reverse catch.
There’s a tiny catch.
“Two year contract.”
There’s a catch that keeps you.
The irony about “the catch” is that its original intentions were pure and its purpose was supposed to serve and protect. Yes, “the catch” was the good guy. It always tells the truth, it erases the smudgy lines and shrinks all the exaggerations.
It is the marketers, who for over a century or more have perfected the art of offsetting the truth with rubber checks, gold plated keys and an assorted bag of gimmicks. All of which forces the consumers to ask, “Where’s the catch?” Marketers have become masters of spin, wizards with words and Photoshop jockeys who will knowingly stretch, recolor, crop and distort the picture they present and leave the task of unraveling the fish story to the illegible legalese.
With such constant and blatant abuse, how can consumers possibly form or foster any trust in the messages they hear and see every day? When an ad requires three paragraphs of exceptions, caveats and limitations the consumer must ask, “What then in the ad is actually true?” With an entire society being forced to look through a dark cloud of smoke and smudgy mirrors, how can any trust be formed for brands?
Worse still, the “catch culture” has made it difficult for people to trust one another.
When a husband says to his wife, “I love you shnookie lumps,” Marketers have conditioned the wife to ask, “Okay. What did you do?” Thanks to “the catch culture,” not even love can be trusted at face value.
When a kid comes home with five A’s and a B- on their report card, Marketers have conditioned the parents to focus on the B- and wonder where they could have gone wrong and failed as parents. Thanks to “the catch culture,” we struggle to celebrate success.
When someone buys a spontaneous gift for a friend, Marketers have conditioned our culture to ask, “Okay. What do you want?” Thanks to “the catch culture”, we’ve become unable to accept generosity without questioning the motive.
Can you imagine a day when the headline of an ad no longer makes claims that the fine print must unravel? That utopian day may be closer than you think.
Consumers are demanding authenticity from brands (both big and small) and they are loudly protesting the use of deceiving “catch culture” practices. People are fed up with false claims and their voice, while previously muted by analog mouth-to-ear word of mouth, is now amplified through social media. The crowd’s demand for truth is being heard beyond the cloud and being actualized in a clean sweep of new consumer protection legislation. One day, marketers will find it impossible to maintain their “catch culture”.
Why wait until then?
This is our greatest opportunity. Let’s say good-bye to the gimmicks. No more tricks, no more bait and switch and no more fine print. While a wholesale changing of the “catch culture” may be a tall order, credit unions are uniquely positioned to lead a nationwide movement of unfiltered honesty. Credit unions are after all, an idea conceived for the people, so let’s be the first industry to abolish the “catch culture” and may the truth set us free.