It’s Your Job to Open the Box

“Do you want some fantastic stereo speakers, cheap?” said the guy driving the white van in the lane next to me.

I rolled my window back up.

We were right outside the Holland Tunnel.  I had just driven back into New York from a New Jersey client meeting, when I noticed this guy trying to get my attention.  I had seen this scam before, but not in a long while.

If I had pulled over, the guy would have told me a sob story about installing a stereo at some rich guy’s place and, through some sort of folly involving a clerical error or the rich guy changing his mind, he had extra speakers to sell.  Not just regular speakers – expensive speakers.  But he’d let me have them for a significant reduction from retail.

If I had followed the scam to its conclusion, I’d be left with either cheap knockoffs or retail boxes containing bricks.

Despite their poor choice of profession, these scamsters do have a certain talent if they’re able to craft a story that compels someone to buy something in cash on the spot.  Especially if they’re able to do it without their mark ever opening the box to see what’s inside.

After I drove away, I thought a bit about what compels someone to believe it’s a good idea to buy something expensive from someone they’ve never met.  Sure, there are the little things that point to legitimacy, like the white commercial van and the scammer looking like a legit stereo installer.  (My guy was driving while holding a clipboard with what looked like a work order on it.)

But mostly it’s about the deal that the mark believes they’re getting.  Somehow, the possibility that they could be getting speakers worth thousands for mere hundreds overrides the part of their brain that would normally be warning them to “check out what’s inside the box.”

Not that I’m likening ad selling to scamming, but I find the same mentality at play with many of the people who want to use black boxes to get ad deals that are just too good to be true.  It’s the mere possibility that they could be getting a fantastic deal that keeps them clamoring for a future filled with black boxes.

Realistically, though, when something isn’t transparent, whether it’s the true cost of the media masked by an “average CPM” or the environment where the media runs, it’s because something is being hidden.  And the things that are hidden make all the difference in the world to your ability to get a commercial message in front of consumers.

That’s why it’s our job to open the box.  It’s not personal – it’s all about ensuring we’re making the proper investments as media buyers.  So let’s all pledge to listen to the part of our brains that tells us to take a closer look.

Tom Hespos is a contributor at The Makegood and Founder and Chief Media Officer at Underscore Marketing, a boutique firm that creates and manages digital marketing programs. Look for Tom’s column the 1st and 3rd Friday of every month.