EDITORIAL: Businesses shouldn’t try to mislead the public

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Adlai Stevenson said in the 1950s that politicians should “talk sense to the people.” But neither they nor businesses are doing that yet, and it’s hard to tell which group is copying the other.

Both try to mislead the people as they try to sell a product. The politicians are selling themselves, though, and people can at least see that the size of the politician has not changed, though he may mislead the people about his or his opponent’s position on issues.

Businesses are at least as clever, if not more so, when it comes to misleading the American people.

To disguise the fact that they have raised the price of an item, grocery manufacturers keep the same price on it and frequently the same size container but reduce the amount of the product inside. Only if a shopper looks closely at the small print on the container will he or she notice that the 24-ounce can of raisins now contains only 20 ounces, the formerly 12-ounce can of cashews contains nine ounces, the 12-ounce bag of potato chips contains nine ounces, etc.

This has even been done with toilet tissue, with the diameter of the tube it is rolled on increased so the roll looks as large as before.

The latest company to try to deceive the public is General Motors, which announced Oct. 17 that in an effort to increase its market share for pickup trucks it is raising the prices.

According to the Associated Press, GM is adding almost $2,100 to the sticker price of the base 2014 Chevrolet Silverado, increasing the price 8.5 percent above when it hit showrooms last spring. Other versions of the Silverado and the GMC Sierra will see similar increases.

The AP story noted: “Raising prices sounds like an odd way to boost sales. But industry analysts suspect it’s a marketing ploy. They expect GM to raise incentives starting next month so dealers can advertise big discounts. Customers will feel they’re getting a deal – whether they do or not depends on the size of the discount.”

So if GM then offers a $2,000 rebate on each truck, customers presumably would think they are getting a great deal when they would actually be paying $100 more than they would have for the same model a few weeks ago.

Apparently many customers do fall for this trick, as GM’s move comes after its pickup sales fell 8 percent in September while sales of Ford’s F-Series rose 10 percent and the Dodge Ram rose 8 percent.

Jesse Toprak, an analyst for the TrueCar.com auto pricing website, told the AP that GM didn’t offer the deals Ford and Chrysler did last month and added that raising prices and then adding incentives is common in the business. “Truck buyers especially like to get deals,” he said.

Except many of these deals aren’t really deals at all. They actually violate the spirit of truth in advertising. But as long as they don’t violate the letter of the law, truck manufacturers will keep advertising such deals.

It would be nice if at least one company would eschew such false deals and gimmicks and talk sense to the public. But we fear their sales campaigns might be as unsuccessful as Adlai Stevenson’s presidential campaigns were, as P.T. Barnum may have been right about a sucker being born every minute.

We would encourage customers buying any product, especially expensive ones such as trucks, to research the pricing history of those products. Armed with those facts, they might encourage companies to truly give them a good deal.

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