This time of year is always a challenge for me. We are preparing to hit the road for a very busy 07/08 tour and I’m starting to book our 08/09 tour now. I’ve already put dates on the calendar for Fall 2008 and we’re working hard on a tour in Australia for Spring/Summer 2009. We may also be heading back to Asia sometime in the 08/09 season. It’s looking like it might be busy!
This year’s tour is going to be a great one. We travel coast to coast with performances in some amazing venues â€“ the Perot Theatre (Texarkana, TX); the Orpheum Theatre (Sioux City, IA); the Vilar Center (Beaver Creek, CO); Michael Palm Theatre (Telluride, CO); Count Basie Theatre (Red Bank, NJ); Broward Center for the Arts (Ft. Lauderdale, FL); Proctorâ€™s Theatre (Schenectady, NY); the Weidner Center (Green Bay, WI); the Carpenter Center (Long Beach, CA); Broadway Center (Tacoma, WA); and the Paramount Theatre (Austin, TX). These are only a few of some amazing places weâ€™ll be performing this year. Iâ€™m really excited!
This is also the one time of the year where I am more fully aware of all the choices our buyers have when it comes to putting things on their stage. Iâ€™m not just competing with other magicians. Iâ€™m also competing with ballets, jazz ensembles, Broadway musicals, symphony orchestras, dance troupes, and more. Donâ€™t get me wrong here. I don’t mind a little competition. I think it’s healthy – keeps us on our toes, drives me to be more creative and involved in re-inventing our image. What I don’t like about competition usually reflects more on the “competitor” than on the “competition” itself.
Magicians are all about â€œdeceptionâ€ and â€œcreating illusion.â€ But I donâ€™t believe we should ever allow those practices to creep into our marketing materials. I believe integrity and honesty are two of the best qualities that humankind are able to possess. But each of those qualities involves a choice – a conscious decision of one’s will to incorporate them into one’s life…and business.
There’s a practice in the business/advertising world called “puffing.” “Puffing” is generally defined as “exaggerated or superlative comments or opinions.” A certain amount of “puffing” has always been acceptable in advertising. The danger is that too much puffing can make someone question your honesty and integrity. We’ve all heard or read statements about a product or person that says such and such is “the best,” “the most spectacular,” “one of the most prominent,” “the fastest rising star,” etc. For the most part, that’s puffing.
Puffing and Facts are generally two very different things. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals defined and ruled like this:
“Puffery and statements of Fact are mutually exclusive. If a statement is a specific, measurable claim or can be reasonably interpreted as being a factual claim, i.e. one capable of verification, the statement is one of FACT. Conversely, if the statement is not specific and measurable, cannot be reasonably interpreted as providing a benchmark by which the veracity of the statement can be ascertained, the statement constitutes Puffery.”
“Under section 43(a) (Lanham Act), two categories of actionable statement exist: (1) literally false factual commercial claims; and (2) literally true or ambiguous factual claims ‘which implicitly convey a false impression, are misleading in context, or [are] likely to deceive consumers.'” United Industries, 140F.3d at 1180
I’ve always tried to stick with the Facts and less with the puffing, though I admit I’ve engaged in the practice over the years. And while I believe a good magical performer should cause an audience to suspend their disbelief, I donâ€™t think one should ask their buyers to do the same when it comes to marketing oneâ€™s show.
As a Christ-follower, I think it’s even more important that I market with integrity and honesty. Everything I do is, ultimately, a reflection on my faith. I’ve been reading in the little book of Philippians in the Bible this week. One of the statements that has captured my attention reads,
“Do everything readily and cheerfully…Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God.”
This statement reinforces one that the same author wrote in Romans 12,
“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”
Both of those are very powerful statements that relate directly to the way someone who claims to be a Christ-follower is supposed to live their life. Let’s put it in perspective in business.
All of the following statements are only hypothetical:
For instance, letâ€™s say I claim to have designed illusions for numerous theatrical productions across the US, including Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Reading that statement, you might assume that I had actually designed illusions for the Disney Corporation on one of their most famous magical productions. But in reality, maybe I only worked with different high school and community theatre groups across the country helping them stage the magic in their local production of Beauty and the Beast. That’s a great credit to have on my resume but is my “puffing” statement too misleading? The reality isn’t quite as impressive as the puffing, but is it wrong? Does it give people a false impression of who I am and what I do? Do you think I wrote it to deceive potential buyers, make them think Iâ€™m more important than I am? OR is it just an exaggeration of a fact?
Okay, what about this. What if I write in my marketing materials that Iâ€™ve performed in over 30 countries around the world. Reading that statement you might think that Iâ€™ve taken my show to theatres in more than 30 countries. But in reality, maybe I worked on a cruise ship for several years and the ship stopped in more than 30 ports. Is that statement misleading? Do you think it gives people a false impression of my tour experience?
Let try this. What if I write this statement â€“ â€œThe Spencers performed for sold out audiences for three months in Hong Kong.â€ That sounds impressive BUT what if, in reality, I worked in an amusement park in Hong Kong and did 4 shows a day as a park attraction. No one had to pay to see my show once they were in the park. It’s an accurate statement but is it misleading? intentionally deceptive?
One last example â€“ suppose I write that I have appeared on ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX television but now you have the opportunity to see me perform live in your town. How would you interpret that statement? Would you assume that I had performed nationally on all the major networks? The reality is I have appeared on all of those networks – but not nationally, only through their local affiliate stations. The only national network appearances I’ve made are on CBS and FOX but I have appeared on more than 100 local or regional programs which were aired on the affiliates of these networks. How honest is it of me to promote that I have appeared on ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX? Is that statement misleading? Does it bend the truth just a little bit or a lot? If you read it or heard it and then found out the truth, what would you think about me?
I think â€œpuffingâ€ can be a very dangerous practice when you allow it to shape perceptions in a dishonest and unethical way. More importantly, I think it works against what God would want me to do in my business…and drags me down to the level of today’s rather questionable culture.