This article was originally posted February 9, 2016.
On January 10, I received an e-mail from TurboTax. “Special Offer Enclosed. Open Now!” it said in the subject line.
I opened the e-mail and a colorful picture loaded with big bold letters, “One Week Only SAVE UP TO $15! January 10-16”. Then there were a bunch of links to different retailers where I could save $15 on my tax software, followed by one final warning, “Limited-Time Offer: Expires at midnight, January 16, 2016.”
I’ve read many marketing books. I don’t sell anything, but I like to know the psychological weapons marketers wield against me. The neat thing is, once you know about a psychological trick, it ceases to work against you. It’s because once you’re aware, you’re on guard. You suddenly see the methods being used against you for what they are: tricks. So I closed the e-mail and went on my way.
The next week, I had deja vu. I received an e-mail from TurboTax entitled, “$15 Off TurboTax. Buy Today!” I opened the e-mail and a colorful picture loaded with big bold letters, “One Week Only! January 17-23 UP TO $15 OFF”. Then there were a bunch of links to different retailers where I could save $15 on my tax software, followed by one final warning, “Limited-Time Offer: Expires at midnight, January 23, 2016.” Where have I seen this before? I closed the e-mail and went on my way.
A week passed. Another TurboTax deadline passed. Then I received yet another e-mail from TurboTax. This one was titled, “Special Offer Enclosed, Ends Jan. 30th!” Slightly annoyed, I closed the e-mail.
I was going to buy TurboTax anyways as I do every year. This time, I went over to Amazon and claimed my “special offer” of $15 off. I was also kind of hoping they would stop sending me those fake deals because I bought it, but I know that’s not how the Internet works.
Another week passed, and another e-mail blipped into my inbox. Another TurboTax $15 off e-mail ending with another ultimatum, “Limited-Time Offer: Expires at midnight, February 6, 2016!” I sighed and closed the e-mail.
I have not received another e-mail from TurboTax this week. Deep down inside, I think I’m slightly disappointed at that. It has become a weekly tradition for me, like a way of ending one week and starting another week with a fresh start and another deadline to work against. Out of curiosity, I looked at the pricing of TurboTax at a couple of major online retailers. Yes, even though the deadline had passed, you still get up to $15 off if you buy. It’s a fake deal.
The event that prompted this rant had nothing to do with TurboTax. My wife and I were tired one night, and we didn’t feel like cooking for the kids. My wife had something in mind. She received a packet of Subway coupons in the mail last week, and it looked like a great deal. Three footlong subs for $18!
I drove to Subway to take advantage of the excellent deal. When I got there, I saw signs for their latest promotion everywhere: “Enjoy all classic footlongs $6 each. February only!” Not only that, but the fine print said “$6 or less”. I ordered three subs. The total came out to $16.95. Feeling a bit like a sucker, I left the coupon in my pocket. That was another fake deal.
Fake deals must be another marketing trend. By psychological sleight of mind, the marketers trick you into thinking you have a ticket to a great deal, when in fact your ticket is worthless. It also takes advantage of urgency because the coupon has an expiration date. These are coupons for nothing with an expiration date.
Takeaway: Just because you’re taking advantage of a deal doesn’t mean you’re saving any money.