Thursday, July 27, 2006

72. Company has no morals

Late one evening last week, my wife and me jumped into the car, filled it with our three dogs and headed to Speedway for a couple of seventy-nine cent "smoothies." Some brilliant television marketing sparked our interest, and spontaneity, which was timed perfectly with the recent heat wave. Unfortunately, the smoothies were not completely frozen, and we ended up with a couple of liquid popsicles. The trip was not for naught, however, because the dogs enjoyed getting out of the house and participating in one of their favorite activities, going for a "r-i-d-e." With three dogs, we have to spell the word, because the mere mention of it, upon our consideration, turns the house into utter mayhem. Suddenly, it seems as if we have ten dogs, running, barking and jumping everywhere and on everything. You would think they had won the lottery.

The usually efficient Speedway was very backed up with a long line of customers. It surprised me, considering that it was after 11:00 p.m. I saw on the side of the register a woman with a hand held contraption, one that looked similar to the inventory entry pads I have seen at the grocery stores. At first, I thought she worked for Speedway, after which I thought her efforts might be best received in helping the sole attendant move some customers through the line.

As I approached I realized that she was not entering inventory, more so, that she did not even work for Speedway. She was, in fact, an employee of R.J. Reynolds, and her intent was to offer smokers two packs of Camels free if they purchased one pack of cigarettes- of any brand. The machine in her grip was one that, upon receipt of the free packs of Camels, automatically entered the name and address of the customer into its memory via his or her driver's license.

As a marketing plan, I would have applauded the effort. R.J. Reynolds was working to both get the customer to consider their particular brand of cigarettes and obtain a large amount of customer information- for more effective use in direct marketing. I also appreciate the leg work, working store by store, meeting customers one by one. The plan also worked well for Speedway, as their customers received three packs of cigarettes for the price of one. Customers that appreciated the savings are likely to go back to Speedway a few more times, thinking that maybe there will be another great offer.

I wondered though, in the context of the whole situation, about the woman handing out the free cigarettes. Does she not understand how horrifically dangerous and addicting cigarettes are? It is probably true that the person accepting the free smokes is already addicted, and that in truth, she was only promoting her "brand" of cancer and other deadly disease But I still wonder how she reconciled that at night. Had anyone in her life ever died from the use of cigarettes? If not, would that have made a difference in her decision to market them for R.J. Reynolds? Is it a matter of personal interest, as I have suggested several times before, that is the mechanism driving her decision-making? Or possibly, is she in complete denial of the dangers of smoking?

I realize employment is difficult and perhaps many people are doing things that they are fundamentally against just to feed their families- and I empathize with that. We are faced with tough ethical decisions from time to time.
R.J. Reynolds must also be held accountable. There is nothing more amusing, the consequences aside, than reviewing the website of cigarette companies. In the case of R.J. Reynolds, I will admit that they are consistent to the idea that they are not trying to persuade a nonsmoker to start smoking- at least in this case. They are just trying to get them to change brands. Their website, however, also states the following:

"The company takes great pride in the principled, responsible and lawful manner in which we conduct ourselves and our business. This company is filled with extraordinarily dedicated people who share a deep commitment to four very important principles that guide every aspect of what we do. We fully recognize that we produce a product that has significant and inherent risks (the first principle)."

Their marketing philosophy states,

"R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (R.J. Reynolds) believes that cigarette smokers are at significantly increased risk for a number of diseases and conditions, including lung cancer, cardiovascular disease (including heart disease) and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (emphysema and chronic bronchitis). Our company's philosophy is to operate as if smoking is a cause of these diseases."

How does a principled and responsible company exists in an environment in which it "operates as if smoking is a cause of" these life-ending diseases? How do extraordinarily dedicated people produce and market a product that they themselves recognize as having significant health risks? Have they ever asked themselves what exactly what are they dedicated to?

On the larger, societal scale, I think how great it would be if people were truly principled and responsible, and refused to do what they know is wrong. Would it not be great if people refused to work for these cigarette companies? Would it not be great they refused to work for companies that built bombs or that harmed animals and the environment? Finally, would not the world be a better place if people refused to kill each other as an exercise of patriotism or act of religious devotion.

I have never understood the point in which people stop thinking for themselves. Whether it is selling cigarettes or as a member of the Nazi army, why do individuals give up not only their morals and values, but also their life to harm or kill innocent people?

71. Stretching truth is natural

Its commonplace is such that I have taken the liberty of introducing it in nomenclature as "The Exaggeration Principle." ‘Principle' might be the wrong word, for it might only be a theory, factor or postulate, but I like the way that sounds, so I am sticking with it.

The exaggeration principle is increasingly becoming a dictum of life similar to trying to decide whether or not a given statement is true or false. It is used in business, politics and other areas of life, such as story telling. Its purpose is to create an action or reaction, depending on the nature of the exaggeration. It can be used for effect, revenge, to start trouble, create a panic or as a way of lying without completing lying- an infamous ploy which hinges on the fact that part of the story is true.

The exaggeration principle is exactly as it suggests- an exaggeration of the truth. The exaggeration exists as measures of embellishment, overstatement and amplification, varying in degree based on the situation at hand. Sometimes the principle is done purposely to harm another individual, sometimes innocently as a part of human nature. Key words include: every, always, never, everybody, nobody. These are the action words often responsible for the exaggeration, although there are many others. The principle can be completely harmless such as telling fish tales, or extremely dangerous when used in business and politics. In the worst case scenarios, an important truth might be ignored based on the same idea that those that "cry wolf' are eventually ignored in the matter of truth.

In the workplace, it is common among competing employees. One employee might walk by and see another employee sitting down. Maybe a few hours later, or even the next day, the employee might again walk by and see the same employee sitting. The correspondence to his or her supervisor is that "every time" I see that employee he or she is just sitting around. The statement is true, but on the basis of a very small sample size. However, that supervisor might then tell another supervisor that the employee is "always" sitting around, now clearly exaggerating the situation.

This was often the case in health care, especially from concerned advocates, such as the families, social workers and others. The worst example of exaggeration was often presented as "always" or "never" occurring. For example, facility resident Ms. Jones "never" has her nails properly trimmed or she is "always" in bed without her alarms on. Other departments often complained about each other, "the floors are never clean," or "the food is always cold." Each place of employment has their examples.

The trouble for supervisors in the previous example is getting to the truth. Do we properly trim Ms. Jones' nails, and is the food always cold? Where does the truth lie? Unconsciously, I think we perform an exaggeration appraisal on each bit of information we receive, based on from whom the information is coming. Some people are quickly noted for grossly exaggerating a small situation, while others may undermine a very serious one.

In politics, exaggeration often reveals itself in "spin." A fact is exaggerated, twisted or extrapolated to misrepresent the truth. The "slippery slope" argument is also a form of exaggeration in which a simple fact is extrapolated to form a ridiculous conclusion. A recent example is the gay marriage campaign in which opponents suggested that legally permitting gays to be married would lead to other odd nuptials, such as women marrying their pet goats. The idea of "spin," "slippery slopes," and other exaggeration are common forms of rhetoric, especially in the news world of five-second sound bites. These exaggerations are used to shape public opinion by creating slogans or instilling fear. Entitling the war as "Operation Iraqi Freedom," clearly exaggerated the benevolence of our endeavor.

The embellishment of fact often includes numbers- again, sometimes in innocence, other times, as a measure of deceit. The fact might include an idea that is not often researched, such as a technical number. It might be that 3 to 5 percent of all scientists dispute the idea of global warming. That percentage might change to "around 5 percent," then to "5 to 10 percent," and finally "over 10 percent." The change in percentage is often directly proportional to the interest of the person or party presenting the information.

Finally, the principle is frequently used in our social lives. It is used to make the stories we tell just a little more exciting and to strengthen our arguments with family and friends. From barbeques to the late night scene, those great stories get a little "taller" with each recital. Interestingly, a recent AP Poll revealed that 52% of Americans think lying is never justified, while 40% think exaggeration is acceptable when it makes a story more interesting. Conversely, in family matters, the conversation often turns into a barrage of exaggerations. For example, those people that are sometimes late are described as "always" being late. There are also those that "always" borrow money, and "never" pay it back. An annoying habit can be made out of questioning each exaggeration, asking, "Really, he is always late, you mean to say that he never arrives on time?"

While "The Exaggeration Principle" may never have been officially recognized, I am sure that it has existed since the beginning of human communication. It can be fun, "dueling" it out with friends to see who can spur the biggest reaction through the amplification of the facts. Unfortunately, it can also cause a great deal of harm, as many people can be harmed when others act on an exaggeration as fact. Politically, exaggerated facts can lead to civil unrest, uprisings and even war. "The Exaggeration Principle" is powerful concept; its users might consider proceeding with caution.