Wednesday, September 28, 2005

If it is too good to be true, it probably isn't

Contextual relevance is one thing. It is the role model for effective internet communications. But what about marketers who lie on their websites?

We all know Internet fraud is a big deal. It destroys the credibility the rest of us are trying to establish. And, as we all know, it only takes one bad experience to ruin the party for everyone else.

Human Factors International's CEO Eric Schaffer reported in his recent newsletter about the rampant Internet fraud.

Stefano Grazioli of the McIntire School of Commerce at The University of Virginia investigated our ability to detect fraudulent sites. He studied 80 people who were savvy in both business and the Internet. He asked them to go to a webpage to help a friend purchase a $625 laptop; half were silently redirected to a page that included the most common devices that fraudulent marketers used to make themselves appear to be legitimate.

The altered cues included:

- A forged Better Business Bureau assurance Seal leading to a real looking report
- A warranty that was too good to be true
- False business location information
- Forged news clips from professional magazines
- Impossibly exaggerated company sales statistics
- Universally positive, hyperbolic customer endorsements

After viewing the site and purchasing the laptop (or not), participants completed a survey exploring whether they perceived the site to be deceptive or not... or were unsuccessful at detecting deception. Overall, even these business and IT savvy users were not able to discriminate between the trustworthy and the deceptive site. 55% of participants trusted the deceptive site (30% correctly suspected; 15% were not sure). Only 38% correctly trusted the good site (32% were suspicious; 30% were not sure).

Moral: If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t.

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