Business ManWhere do you draw the line between a business or scam?

Categories: Online Scams
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Published on: June 20, 2012

Business or Scam: Where Do You Draw the Line? ()

Business Man

This is part two of a two part post. You can click here to go to part one, where I talk more about the general business climate.

In my last post, I mentioned that there are real problems in business, which I believe are made worse because we don’t pay attention to them. Here, I want to talk a little about the different factors to look at, and draw a conclusion.

The End Justifies the Means

There are a lot of assumptions people make in business, and this one is a classic. If a business can provide you with a good or service better or cheaper than their competitors, then they have an advantage. That’s just common sense. So does it matter how they got the better or cheaper product? I believe it does.

A basic example: you walk down the street in Manhattan and a street vendor is selling jewelry at ridiculously low prices. You see a ring you like, and the price is good, so you buy it. The next day you see in the news that a major burglary ring was broken up and the way they operated was to steal jewelry and then sell it cheap on the street. Now, was the deal you did to get that ring legitimate, or a scam? What if they stole the ring from a major jewelry chain? Or suppose the original owner of that ring was an eighty-year-old woman living on social security, holding on to the ring as a present she was given forty years ago by one of her now deceased children? Is it fair that you got that ring for twenty-five bucks on the street?

I don’t think anyone would like that scenario. But let’s play it another way. You go into a big-brand jewelry store and buy a diamond ring for $3000. Later you hear that that big-brand store bought its diamonds from a war-torn village in Africa where children as young as five are made to work seven days a week digging up the diamonds. But wait, it’s a big brand! And you paid a legitimate price for it! Doesn’t that make the deal fair as far as you’re concerned? You’re not the problem, it’s the brand itself and the government laws that allow these things to happen. But at the end of the day, you gave someone money for a diamond that was obtained in less-than-ethical means. So, does the end justify the means?

There are a ton of examples out there. What if you invest in a very successful company that buys and liquidates smaller companies that are having trouble, putting hundreds of people out of work and obliterating whatever new products or services that small business could contribute to society? What if you buy and wear a shirt from a big-brand department store that was sewn by completely legal underage laborers in a third world country earning less than $1 per day? Where do you draw the line?

Truth in Marketing

This brings us to what I think is the crux of the problem. Marketing. In many ways, marketing is the bastard son of business, working hard to accomplish worthy goals, but never quite escaping its distasteful heritage. Depending on who you ask, marketing is about telling your company’s or products’ stories, or it’s about being uniquely persuasive, or it’s about shaping and defending your brand’s reputation. Or most likely it’s about all three and more. But in the popular mind it’s about trying to fool consumers into buying something they really don’t need or want.

So what is the truth in marketing? In reality, it’s both. But, no matter how essential marketing is to businesses large and small, the fact is marketing is not the company. And that’s where I think some companies lose track. Businesses that are marketing first, and product later, are at best misguided, and at worst a pure scam. Even a good creative or marketing agency that sells marketing isn’t really marketing first, it is service first.

And so this is what I think I learned the most from Scamworld. There really are sharks in the marketing pool, people who live up to the public’s perception of marketing. But they’re not the majority and they’re not representative of what marketing is about. The problem is, good marketing is transparent, so if we’re all doing our job correctly, no one sees us. That means the only marketers they see are the ones who bring us all down.

The Top and the Bottom

Old Ben

It’s not unusual for a company of any size to have top-level executives, bottom level laborers, and everyone in between. That mirrors society and there’s nothing wrong with it. But a business is not a democracy. Is it fair that on the blood and sweat of the hard workers under them, executives craft “golden parachutes”, escape shafts, and otherwise line their pockets in completely selfish and non-business related practices that hurt and may eventually ruin the business, casting all the hard workers into the streets? It’s no wonder that so many don’t trust the business.

But it isn’t the business that is at fault. In fact, the business itself is probably the biggest victim of them all. And the problem isn’t just executives, either. In all levels of a business there are those who don’t pull their weight, who make bad decisions, and who ultimately steal from their employer in collecting a check they haven’t fully earned. Of course a secretary coming in late every day isn’t the same as a CEO that protects himself at the expense of the business. And that difference is what makes public opinion about entire businesses seem so sinister.

When you really look at it, though, a business, a legitimate business, is not out to screw anyone, including its employees. There may be individuals in the business that are, but you have to separate those people and their actions from the corporation they claim to be doing them for. Because actions that are harmful to the public and harmful to their own employees are not somehow helpful to the business. There may be short term gains, but any business that’s out there for short term gains shouldn’t be out there at all.

Conclusion:

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And the world’s business system is starting to look like a forest fire. Why else would Scamworld and The Salty Droid exist? There are clearly problems out there and, I think, crimes are being committed. So what do we do?

The movie Ethos suggests we, as consumers, have power by “voting with our wallets”. But I really don’t think the business is the problem. It is the individuals. I know it is unpopular, but my suggestion is governmental regulation. If governments exist for anything, it is to prevent the chaos of anarchy, the wild west. Is that what we have in business? Certainly not. But could we get there with unrestrained capitalism? I worry that the answer is yes. If we can’t draw and enforce the line, then the line may as well not exist.

Is there really a problem in business? If so, how would you fix it?

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Business Man
Old Ben
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