Fallacies in Marketing


One of the things I find frustrating in marketing materials is the use of logical fallacies. I know that not everyone wants logical correctness as a part of life. Having studied science at university, I like good rules that are followed. I’d prefer that marketing materials were honest, complete, and direct. The problem with overstated claims or logical fallacies is that they undermine the rest of the message. As soon as a reader of the message questions the honesty of a part of the message, the remaining message is also suspect. I would much prefer full and direct marketing messages, rather than half-truths that treat the reader as someone lacking in intelligence. Unfortunately, we will never get rid of the fallacies, because humans and money are involved. So, we need to understand the fallacies that are common and learn to recognize them in materials we read.

False Equivalence

The first logical fallacy that annoys me is false equivalence. The usual form involves talking about a customer who replaces ten racks of existing equipment with one rack of the vendor’s solution. Or it could be data centers or kilowatts of power that are replaced. The stated conclusion is that the vendor’s product is amazing. The problem is that the comparison equates five- to seven-year-old technology with modern technology. Servers have become smaller and faster, as predicted by Moore’s Law. A better comparison would be between this vendor’s product and the other modern products, products that the customer could have chosen to replace the old gear. If the other vendor’s product would take two racks and consume 20kW of power, then we could have a real comparison. If our product uses just one rack and 10kW of power, we still have a winning comparison. I’m not suggesting naming competitors and matching up specifications. That risks an evil all its own. But comparisons need to be relevant to the customer’s current buying decisions. We all know that a single Raspberry Pi has about the same power as a mainframe from the 1980s, but nobody is buying a Pi to replace a 30-year-old mainframe.

False Cause

I saw this one in a series of presentations about private cloud. A couple of the speakers had migrated from a nonvirtualized environment to a private cloud. The main benefit that these speakers praised was the rapid provisioning time, changing from six or twelve weeks for physical servers to under an hour for private cloud. I felt like asking these presenters why they had not deployed virtualization or a virtual infrastructure five or ten years ago to gain the benefits of rapid provisioning. I know these companies revolutionized their IT operations through deploying a private cloud. However, the benefits they saw are not relevant to the majority of organizations, which have already virtualized. On the other hand, I really liked the final presenter of the group. They talked about how a private cloud had allowed them to empower developers. Developers can deploy their own development infrastructure. This customer’s platform would stand up and tear down hundreds of VMs a week. This is something that does require more than just virtualization; it is a real reason for a cloud deployment.

We Are (Partly) to Blame

Part of the reason we see hyperbole in marketing is that it helps the product stand out from the noise. Marketing teams are required to make their message heard, and a stunning claim will get more attention. It is human nature to be drawn to anything unusual or different. It is also human nature to turn off when the message is familiar and mundane. Marketing hyperbole is simply marketing people doing their job of getting potential customers to pay attention. In some cases, it is simply people talking from their passion, which is naturally biased.

Question Every Claim

There is very little chance that logical fallacies will disappear from marketing. The crucial thing for us as consumers of marketing material is to question every claim. Remember that everyone writing has a level of P. T. Barnum, the showman and salesman. Consider the person writing and the purpose of the writing. Both contribute to the viewpoint in whatever content you are consuming.

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Alastair Cooke
Alastair Cooke is an independent analyst and consultant working with virtualization and datacenter technologies. Alastair spent eight years delivering training for HP and VMware as well as providing implementation services for their technologies. Alastair is able to create a storied communication that helps partners and customers understand complex technologies. Alastair is known in the VMware community for contributions to the vBrownBag podcast and for the AutoLab, which automates the deployment of a nested vSphere training lab.
Alastair Cooke

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