Are Hoaxes and Scams Killing Testimonials?

As I was “stumbling” through some websites this weekend, I came across one called That got me thinking about the e-mail hoaxes that litter our inboxes on a regular basis, many coming from well-intentioned, blind faith friends and family forwarding them happily along.

I am a skeptical guy by nature, and I tend to suspend belief until I can investigate further. Snopes and Wikipedia are my favorite starting points. (Oddly, as I am writing this, I see this post from Seth Godin.) So here’s my question: are the proliferation of hoaxes and scams signaling the end of legitimate testimonials?

For a testimonial to work, it has to be from someone people can trust, for whatever reason. Viewers must believe that the person giving the testimonial honestly believes in the product. Doubt creeps in when it seems too scripted, when it’s accompanied by fine print or when stories like this one appear.

Testimonials rely on authenticity. For an endorsement to work, it has to be a real user with a real reason to use it. The key word here is “real”.

Look at an ad for a diet program that includes testimonials about how much weight people lost (and nearly all of them do). The advertiser puts in small print “results not typical”. Why? What’s wrong with small victories? What about people failing to succeed and the reasons why? Without addressing those issues, it’s no better than the average scam. And this can go for just about anything.The problem with most testimonials is that the seller is putting up only the people and scripts they approve. And their argument would be “there is no way I would take the chance that someone would say something bad about my product”. They want to control the message you hear. We all do. I have often said that all communication is a form of manipulation.

But I have another point. If people don’t expect you to be perfect, then they won’t be disappointed when you’re not.

Be real. Deliver on your promises. These are simple concepts often lost in greed and a desire to control.

As an aside, when I wrote the posts “Think Twice about that Endorsement” and “A Desire for Authenticity”, I didn’t think I would be closing the loop on those ideas in quite this way.

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One Response

  1. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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