Ethics Dunces: Everyone Who Says This Is “Clever” Or “Funny”

See you in court in about 20 years, kid.

The words they re looking for are “deceitful” and “dishonest.”

11-year-old Seth Parker advertised his roadside root beer stand with the sign above. After concerned neighbors called the police, it was determined that the sign was just a classic bait-and-switch.

See the small print invisible to casual passersby? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! It says “root”! That means the sign is truthful, right?

No, that means the sign is false…a lie, a deceitful marketing ploy designed to deceive, that emulates the dishonest techniques of frauds, scam artists and grifters since the dawn of time. Yet somehow, because the scamster is a kid, the entire mainstream media is falling all over itself  extolling conduct that is not only not praiseworthy, it is the first step on the road to predatory conduct.

CBS, CNN, USA Today and others have called the ploy “clever.”  Utah Senator Mitt Romney—Seth lives in Utah—, tweeted a picture of Seth with the comment, “A lesson in reading the fine print! The future is bright for this young Utah entrepreneur.”

How to pass along those values Mitt. “Fine print” in a contract is an unethical drafting technique that relies on an ethics loophole: you are supposed to read, and presumed by the law to have read,  anything you sign, so lawyers who allow you to assume that your contract partner isn’t trying to cheat or deceive you to ignore that fine print officially can claim their victims have no one to blame to blame but themselves. That doesn’t mean, however, that fine print tricks are ethical, just as the fact that the old “bait and switch” technique—appearing to advertise one product to get the suckers in the door and then revealing that another lesser, more costly, or completely different one is the real item being offered–is as old as Stonehenge means that  technique  is ethical either.

Of course, the kind of  deceit Seth employed has non-economic uses too–ask Bill Clinton or any similar Lothario…

“Now, now…when I said you were “the only woman” for me, I meant at that moment, when you were the only woman around. I didn’t lie to you—you leapt to conclusions.”

“Look, when I said I’d call you, I never said when I’d call you.”

How clever!

Contrary to the anti-social message he is getting,  Seth’s scheme is nothing for him or his family to be proud of. It is irresponsible and ethically ignorant for the media and our culture to praise it. (And Mitt–I’m disgusted, and I officially revoke my 2012 vote). How many budding future liars, swindlers and predators will be inspired by the near universal celebration of Seth’s unethical conduct?


7 thoughts on “Ethics Dunces: Everyone Who Says This Is “Clever” Or “Funny”

  1. So the neighbors, instead of investigating what was going on and finding it was root beer, their first thought was to call the police and waste their valuable time. What imbeciles!

  2. Jack
    Serious question.
    Doesn’t “Bait and Switch” or other deceptive practices have to have the customer believing that there is a reasonable opportunity of getting the offer?

    I do agree that the positive reinforcement the child is receiving will create a bad lesson for later in life and someone should explain to the boy that while this may be cute at his age it is an unethical business practice in adult life.

    In this case what sane adult could reasonably believe a 10 year old could be selling the highly regulated product – beer – much less engage in such transactions if true?. As I wrote that I just remembered the neighbor that did. Oh well, I guess the gullible everywhere. Perhaps he should sell milk to cure cancer.

    • That is the rub. This is a news story that should never have left the neighborhood. The boy is doing something silly, and the national media/major public figures have a responsibility to not comment on such trivial matters.

  3. Hmm, how do false advertising suits begin? Make sure the parents and some of the prominent people approving are listed as codefendants? Ignoring false advertising is how we reached the point where companies, governments, and celebs take advantage of the public in so many ways. If I wanted to be a scumbag the family should be hit with a trip to Disney for cleverness, requiring a specific coupon from 1965, since they have no understanding how bad this was unless they were hit too. Abject failure of the golden rule. Taking advantage of other people should never be the default or acceptable.

  4. Does this criticism extend to auto dealer advertisements who add disclaimers at a spoken pace that would get through the Declaration of Independence in about 15 seconds? Or the tag lines that go with the pharmaceutical ads we see on TV? It is all intended as cover for an offer or outcome that most likely will not come to pass.

  5. As a professional in this field it is important everyone understand this is unethical marketing. Just because this and other types of deceptions might be legal, they are not ethical.

    When teaching students they leave my classes knowing marketing campaign must clear 4 ever taller hurdles to be considered ethical.

    1. Is it legal? If not, stop.

    2. Is it just? Can you rationally espouse your viewpoint while being able to weigh the customers’ expectations. If not, stop.

    3. Is it transparent? Can the average customer fully understand the details? If not, stop.

    4. Is it socially responsible? Is anyone diminished by the campaign for your gain? Your campaign cannot denigrate or discriminate. If it does, stop.

    Pursuing unethical campaigns is most often motivated by greed. Greed is antithetical to long term profit.

    This kid just got his 15, now he’s done. Bye bye profitable root beer stand.

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