Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Marketing Translations

Shoppers are bombarded with messages of sales, specials, and deals. These marketing messages almost always make the deal sound better than it really is. Here are a few common messages along with translations into more neutral language.

Buy one and get the second one at
50% OFF!

Translation: “25% off, but you have to buy two of them.”

We’ll pay the HST!

Translation: “11.5% off.” The HST may be 13%, but taking it off saves only 11.5%.

Fill all 10 spots on your sub card and you get a

Translation: “9% off, but you have to buy 11 subs before this promotion ends.”

Buy with our card and
collect valuable points!

Translation: “Trade dollars for another form of currency called points whose value we control and can devalue with redemption rule changes any time we please.”

None of these deals is necessarily good or bad. They just aren’t as good as they seem at first. Do readers have any more good examples?


  1. I think Preet wrote about the bigger volume, better value gimmick in the Globe today. Shoppers perceive a better value when they get more for the same price rather than getting a smaller quantity that costs less per unit.

    Shoppers Drug Mart's free product with purchase comes to mind.

  2. To your collection of gimmicks:
    "Do not pay until "
    = cost of credit is included in the price to make you feel smart

    "Buy a house and receive a cash back"
    = take even more credit than your house is worth against the same equity, in other words - expose yourself to risk of real estate "correction"

    "Lease = win"
    Leasing a car cost more than buying, because more players have to be fed from the same buyer's valet.

    "Health insurance"
    = illness insurance

    "Life insurance"
    = death insurance

    "Insurance premium"
    = not a bonus, but a cost

  3. @Echo: It's true that half off is better than half more, but people seem to prefer getting more.

    @AnatoliN: That's a good list. On the first point, I've been told that the cost of "Do not pay until ..." is actually borne by those who fail to pay on time and are charged very high interest retroactively.

  4. I feel kinda stupid that I don't get this one:

    "We’ll pay the HST! Translation: “11.5% off.” The HST may be 13%, but taking it off saves only 11.5%."

    If the pre-tax amount is $100, I'm saving $13 with this promotion.

    Where does the 11.5% come from?

  5. @Anonymous: The full price without a discount would have been $113. The savings is $13 or 13/113 = 11.5%. Another way to think of it is that if the item had been discounted to $88.50 (by 11.5%), when you add the HST on, you get about $100.

  6. Usually for cars:
    "buy now at pay 0% interest for x months"
    Interest charges already built-in.

  7. @Fernando: Good one. Even more transparent is when you have a choice of 0% financing or $2500 cash back.