Please, marketers, some integrity

Jun 12, 2006 5:37 AM

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics."

— Samuel "Mark Twain" Clemens

Somewhere on the road of life I missed a left and unlike Bugs Bunny found myself right smack dab in the middle of Albuquerque. While there, I learned a lesson about marketing integrity.

After traveling what seemed to be all day, my travel partner and I were tired and hungry. The Mexican restaurant enjoyed during my last sojourn and for which I yearned had a foreclosure notice tacked on its window. Ay carumba!

With tumbleweed blowing along First Street, we decided to patronize what seemed like an independent "funky" diner right along historic Route 66. To avoid libel and slander issues, the name of this establishment will not be disclosed.

Throughout my travels, I’ve learned a few culinary tricks: Don’t gorge on Chinese food in Gettysburg, unless, that is, you want to see the South rise again; don’t eat meat from the street in the Middle East; and don’t swallow "fresh" oysters more than 20 miles inland from a plausible body of freshwater.

Thus, when feasting in a diner, heed the advice of the recommended "blue plate" special. Like answering "B" on the SATs, it’s hard to go wrong with meatloaf.

Making friendly conversation with the waitress, I inquired if the meatloaf was "homemade." She replied, "It was a special recipe" and "she could swallow it." Odd and somewhat cryptic answer, but we were Oprah famished. Maybe the waitress was being quirky like a character from a B-52s or REM video. Those music vignettes always seemed to be set in a diner along Route 66 and were kinda-sorta kooky androgynous fun.

The meatloaf arrived, and it resembled some bizarre gray pre-fabricated slab of meat-like matter (maybe bleached out SPAM) slathered on store-bought French-lite (Quebecois?) bread. Maybe this was some regional specialty like the Albuquerque green chili burger?

I choked the kind-of-processed-turkey flavored chemical brick down drowned with a plethora of ketchup. At the end of the ordeal, I asked the waitress, "So, what kind of meat was that?" She honestly had no idea.

The chef came out and through two or three teeth explained/whistled, "Since the owner (Steve’s) momma’s been sick, we’ve been buying the meatloaf frozen from a box. Steve hasn’t been in to make "the load" and so it’s not his secret recipe." (We were served the restaurant bulk equivalent to the Hungry Man dinner sold in finer convenience stores at gas stations throughout this great nation).

All I could think is "We’ve been duped! You $^@?% bastards!!!! Why didn’t you just tell us to get something else off the menu, like a BLT with radiated mayonnaise or one-minute poached eggs (that would take you 10 minutes)?! You completely and knowingly misrepresented this product!" I had a bad taste in my mouth not only from the processed meat but from the experience. Not providing disclosure can wreak real havoc.

Yes, I realize the above true story was a long introduction, but I really hate Steve for allowing his name to remain associated with a special recipe entrée, that was anything but special, toothy the chef, the lying witch of a waitress and the whole "authentic" Route 66 diner. Not only was the so-called meatloaf awful, but my expectations of a great meal were betrayed by a malevolent act of being misled.

I am afraid a casino in Black Hawk is pulling similar shenanigans. They are running a marketing campaign claiming their machines are "Up to 19% looser" than the rest of the market. This implies that the majority of their machines (although just two to make this statement technically valid) have a greater payout than a minimum of two machines at a competing property.

Let’s assume that the average Black Hawk slot machine holds (for the casino/house) approximately 5.97% (2005 annual hold) and thus pays out 94.03%. This percentage seems intuitively right. What does 19% looser mean?

The parameter for slot machine holds in the Black Hawk market is 80% to 100%. Thus, if the claiming Casino X has a machine that holds 1% and a neighbor Casino Y has a machine that in fact does hold at the allowable 20% then the statement is technically true. Here is the problem with this kind of advertising; it is simply misleading.

There is no reason that Casino Y could not reverse this claim if it could prove that it held in its inventory a machine that has a payout of 99% (or a house hold of 1%) and its rival Casino X has a machine that maintains a payout of 80% (or a house hold of 20%). The logic is spurious at best, disingenuous at worst.

Most gamblers realize when walking through the front door of a casino that they are entering a situation where the odds are stacked against them. Negative expectation is what keeps the neon flickering, the showgirls kicking, and the reels spinning. Many people have said it, and the joking sentiment is partly true, casinos survive and thrive because people can’t do math. As an industry, let us not make it any harder on the average player by advertising with statements that while technically true are questionable with their reasoning.