Borders: Intentionally Misleading Marketing Ploy [en]

[fr] Les étiquettes sur les livres que je viens d'acheter chez Borders, un grand libraire anglo-saxon, sont conçues de façon à induire en erreur l'acheteur. On comprend "achetez-en un, recevez-en un: moitié prix" alors qu'en fait c'est "achetez-en un, recevez-en un moitié prix". Il faut lire les petits caractères qui sont tellement petits qu'on ne voit pas qu'ils sont là. Pas fair-play, malhonnête, et franchement, très petit.

I’m officially pissed off. Yesterday at Borders, I picked up a bunch of books from the stands near the entrance of the shop. They all had a nice red sticker advertising a reduced price. See for yourself:

Border's Intentionally Misleading Marketing Ploy

(want a closer look?)

Here is the text of the sticker, reproduced for your personal entertainment:

Buy one Get one
Half Price

Please note the follow details: line-breaks, capitalisation (“Buy”, “Get”, and both “Half” and “Price”, but not “one”), and text size. They lead the casual reader (and even the not-so-casual one, I’m ready to bet) into interpreting this advertisement this way:

Buy one, get one: half price (Borders)

Right? If you buy one, you get one — the result is that they are half price. Sounds nice!

Actually, not so. You have to read the fine print. Oh, the fine print? I actually only discovered it when I was taking the photos for this post. Let’s have a closer look:

Small Print

Oh! there it is. I can see it now. Fine print indeed:


So, actually, the text on the sticker is to be understood in the following way:

Buy one: get one half price (Borders)

With an addendum, in tiny all-caps:


Please note, again, how the layout, font sizes, and capitalisation are intentionally designed to induce misunderstanding of the sales conditions.

This is not fair-play, Borders.

Of course, I bought my books. It’s not when you see the total at the cash desk and you realise it’s higher than you expected, and you say “erm, isn’t it ‘buy one, get one free’?” only to be answered “no, it’s ‘buy one, get one half price‘” that you’re going to stop everything and give up on the books which you had already acquired in your mind.

Borders, shame on you for using such an evil marketing ploy. Disgraceful.

11 thoughts on “Borders: Intentionally Misleading Marketing Ploy [en]

  1. Well, I make it a point (somtimes, if I have the energy) to tell them why I don’t like what they do – and walk out without the purchase, not even putting the books back.

    Thing is: they’ll never learn if noone tells them it’s not okay. Just don’t take it out on the clerk at the checkout, it’s most probably not their fault.

    Some may say that an individual doesn’t make a difference. But a) someone has to start, right? and b) I feel better this way.

    Your mileage may vary, of course.

  2. Erm… Sorry but I read that as get the second book for half the money and only the cheapest one. A deal I have seen all over England the last few years.

  3. Gerard: well, maybe you’re so used to it that you don’t fall for it anymore. But take two steps back and look at the sticker again: it’s designed to be misleading.

  4. It is a pretty basic promotional mechanic and very common on the high street today. Yes the sticker have the half price bigger, but it pretty clear that is buy one get one half price. Buy one get one free is the mechanic that they use to advertise a half price offer.
    And trust me on this one, don’t waste your time complaining, as it will not make a difference.
    From a marketing point of view it is a very clever way of delivering the message and that is marketing people doing their job. At the end of the day no one is forcing to buy your books at Borders, there are plenty of other chains out there, so the choice is yours…

  5. Why do you feel the need to defend Borders? Unless you read the small print, it is not “very clear that it is buy one, get one half price”. Not at all. The lettering is designed in a way to encourage the other interpretation.

    It’s not “clever”, it’s dishonest.

    Why people feel the need to defend Borders on this one is beyond me. And yes, of course I can go shopping for books elsewhere. But that’s beside the point.

    In my opinion, the job of marketing people should not be “tricking or misleading customers”. That’s not the world I want to fight for.

  6. IMHO, the job of marketing people is to sell, and they do so by attracting customers with special offers like this one.

    I agree that the font size in this particular case might be misleading, yet it is not dishonest in the sense that the terms here are stated in full and clearly.

    As customers in a very competitive world (even for books) we have to be aware, and careful. Always read the fine prints twice !

  7. Completely off topic, but “A Fine Balance” is a fine book. Seeing that cover reminded me of my latest trip to India, which was, well, way too long ago (just like yours, I suppose).

  8. Hmm, I read this one *exactly the same way Steph. Might it be because we are less exposed here in Switzerland to this sort of marketing ploy.

    I agree with you on this and I’m biting my lip and struggling with a strong envy to rant on similar ploys that we are seeing regularly.

    I’ll stop right here if you don’t mind. 🙂

  9. Graham: I think that people who are exposed to marketing ploys tend to become immune to them (well, of course, as we become immune to advertising), to the point where not only are they not taken in anymore, but these naughty tricks are perceived as “normal”.

    Fabienne: I agree (in theory) that one must read the fine print. And yes, had I read the fine print, I would not have been taken in. However: (1) the fine print, in this case, is not only barely readable, but barely visible. To read it, you need to see it. When looking at the sticker, it looks like just another line under the big thick one underlining “BORDERS”. (2) Having fine print that clarifies things doesn’t make it honest. It’s still a dirty trick to play on customers, and not the kind of marketing I want to support.

  10. I think Fabienne introduces an interesting point when she says “it is not dishonest in the sense that the terms here are stated in full, and clearly”.
    Our judgement, nowadays, is increasingly governed by the legal aspects rather than responsible action. We are no longer able to use our own (or accept others’) sense of responsibility and fall back on what “they” say is right or wrong and write into the statute books.
    I see a similarity between the large settlements for spilling a hot drink over yourself and the Borders label. It seems we need an addendum to “It’s all fair in love and war” which would read “and use of the legal system for financial gain.” – personal or corporate.
    Of course we need a legal system, but one that encourages responsibility, not manipulation.
    I believe we must all work to reverse the trend that to be honest is to be a wimp.

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