Sunday, December 23, 2012

Are gunbloggers being used to support deception?


One of the principles that was drummed into me by my parents was that 'voluntary association implies approval".  Let me reiterate that at greater length, because it's important:  if one voluntarily associates with a particular group, or cause, or political party, or whatever, this necessarily implies that one approves of it.  (This doesn't apply to involuntary association, of course.  One usually can't choose one's siblings, or one's comrades in arms during military service, or one's fellow employees.  If one doesn't have a choice whether or not to associate with them, one can't automatically be assumed to like or support them.)

One can think of many examples of how this applies in everyday life.  For example, if one repeatedly attends religious services led by, and listens to sermons preached by, Fred Phelps or Jeremiah Wright or Louis Farrakhan, one may be assumed to endorse and support their perspectives.  If one shops only at stores or Web sites endorsed by lifestyle advocates such as The Happy Hippie or Greener Spots, one may be assumed to endorse the latters' perspective on the environment and conservation, and their business practices.

This brings me to an issue that's reared its ugly head in these pages before.  Back in July last year, Linoge, blogging at Walls Of The City, undertook an excellent piece of investigation which revealed that several apparently independent Internet ammunition retailers were, in fact, one and the same corporation, operating under different identities without acknowledging or revealing this.  A follow-up investigation revealed that there were no less than six Web sites involved.  I wrote about this at the time, here and here.

Linoge summed up my own misgivings about this situation in this passage from his second article.

"I do not mind any of these companies being 'drop shippers' – in truth, being an industrial engineer, the concept of drop shipping appeals to me greatly on a variety of levels. As I tried to explain in the previous post, my bone of contention with Lucky Gunner is that they operate multiple, separate, disjoint storefronts as if they were competitors, and do not make the fact that they are all the same company publicly known anywhere – I, personally, find this to be rather misleading, manipulative, and deceptive."

I couldn't agree more!  It astonished me at the time that some of my friends in the blogosphere tried to defend Lucky Gunner and its associated Web sites as merely using a legitimate commercial technique to boost sales.  Let's look at some dictionary definitions of the terms Linoge uses above.

Mislead:
1.  to lead or guide wrongly; lead astray.
2.  to lead into error of conduct, thought, or judgment.

Manipulate:
1.  to manage or influence skillfully, especially in an unfair manner: to manipulate people's feelings.

Deceive:
1.  to mislead by a false appearance or statement.
...
4.  to mislead or falsely persuade others; practice deceit: an engaging manner that easily deceives.

I agree with Linoge's use of those terms.  That's why, to this day, I won't do business with, or recommend to others, any of the companies or Web sites he identified as being involved in such practices, namely:

  • Ammo.net
  • Bulkammo.com
  • Ammoforsale.com
  • Gunsforsale.com
  • Military Ballistics Industries
  • Luckysurvival.com
  • Luckygunner.com

Unfortunately, I've noticed recently that some bloggers whose work I otherwise like and respect are voluntarily associating themselves with these companies and/or Web sites.  If 'voluntary association implies approval', then I submit that by doing so, they are approving such practices as well.  Perhaps they weren't aware of past controversy, or they may have additional information that persuades them that the company(ies) concerned are, indeed, legitimate, honest and upright outfits.  (I should point out that using bloggers to garner publicity was an explicit marketing objective of these companies/Web sites, as identified by Linoge in his first investigative article.)

I'm very unhappy to see this.  I hope the bloggers concerned, and any others who are tempted to do likewise, will reconsider their alliance with a company or companies who, to this day, have not responded to the concerns identified by Linoge last year.  Instead, they've continued to employ commercial tactics that I, for one, find ethically questionable to the point of being unacceptable.  I also hope that those who share my concerns about this will make that clear to the companies involved.

I'd like to throw this open to comments from readers.  Do you think that I - and Linoge, and others who are concerned by such business practices - are being unfair?  Are we entitled to expect and require honesty, openness and integrity from those with whom we do business?  Or are we hopelessly out of touch with the times?  Please let us know your views in Comments.

Peter

EDITED TO ADD:  A follow-up post may be found here.

16 comments:

irontomflint said...

That premise forces gullible and jaded alike to surmise that if the advertisers are just many versions of the same company, it would follow that the many bloggers they advertise with are just varied versions of just a small cadre of people pretending to be writers .
Advertising monies paid to the "bloggers" would actually stay within the company. It pays “bloggers" to produce slightly different verbiage to feed to the masses they are trying to reach, thereby getting as much lucre from as many buyers as possible.
Seems legit…

Chris said...

A quick survey of the listed sites (I have never used any of them to buy ammo previously) for pricing on 1,000 rounds of American Eagle .40 S&W showed different pricing, but all within a tad over 1% of each other. They seem to be marketing to slightly different groups. Given the ease with which I shopped between the sites, I don't see a major problem.

My take on it is that the ultimate parent of these sites is trying to maximize profit, which is a good strategy. I am not offended greatly by the multiple identities of what is, essentially, the same seller. Anyone with a decent internet connection can compare prices between these and other sites quite easily. It's no more bothersome than finding out that some discount store brand is actually made by a manufacturer that also sells their name-branded product in the same store.

And just to be open about it, I'm over 60, so it's not just a young whippersnapper thing.

MSgt B said...

Merry Christmas Peter.

I've never bought ammo online. It's one of those things I like to see and hold in my hand before my money hits the table.

That being said, they're just doing what dozens of other companies do, from Acuras to Zanax.

Peter said...

@MSgt. B: I know that many companies do it, but that doesn't make it right. I'm beginning to wonder whether we don't get the vendors we deserve, if we tolerate this sort of deception from them. What happened to old-fashioned truth in advertising, and honesty in business?

Ed Robertson said...

It has nothing to do with deception, its how the internet works. Google created the system for ranking websites in the search results. Having multiple sites linking to each other is how you increase your ranking. I notice you link to other bloggers on this site, same thing.

Kansas Scout said...

This is overwrought nit picking. If each entity practices ethical, sound business practices, then I can see no deception. After all, GM had Olds, Chevy, Cadillac, Pontiac ect. Was there deception in that? Not really. Much ado about nothing.

Kansas Scout said...

I noticed that the blogger post here, http://www.wallsofthecity.net/2011/07/online-ammunition-retailers-a-hypothesis.html has advertisments from competitors and one such competitor is Cheaper than Dirt, which many thousands of us have decided to be a traitor to the cause of the second amendment and will no longer patronize them. Do I now suspect "Walls of the City" blog of being duplicitous? You know, maybe I do.

TheAxe said...

I agree with you and lingoe, just because they get away with it doesn't make it right, especially when they're trying to use bloggers for advertising to prospective customers.

Borepatch said...

I bought some ammo from Blukammo and had a good experience - good price and very quick delivery. I did it because their marketing guy emailed me and I thought I'd check it out.

Didn't realize that they were part of (ahem) "a family of companies". Interesting.

Rick Street said...

Shame on them for the deception

Old NFO said...

Interesting take Peter, gotta go think about this one.
Thanks!

ironrailsironweights said...

Unless this tactic increases the price of ammunition over what it otherwise would be, I see no reasons why consumers should complain. Or care.

Peter

Murphy's Law said...

Thanks for the info. Not sure if I'm being harmed here, but I don't care for the practice, that's for sure. If a seller is less than honest about one thing, what else are they less than honest about?

On a Wing and a Whim said...

I don't see this as particularly new, or particularly worrying. It's a function of the nature of search engines - if you want to get 80% of the customers, you need to have all 5 of the top search returns, not just one. Making several different companies in order to capture the lion's share of the eyeballs seems a logical extension of all the tweaking of SEO tools, tags, links, blogs, facebook and twitter tie-ins, and so on. (Besides, if you try seven versions of a basic business model, you never know which one will really get popular - but you have a better chance that one will!)

In Chicago, there was (still is) a single store in the clubbing district that is a block to itself - but it maintains each storefront as though they are separate businesses. Now, in that case, the objective is to try sixteen different ways of catching your eye, getting you in, and then hoping you'll explore the connected site and spend more money there. In the case of lucky gunner et al, it seems more like seven tries at the same market, but they don't have anything different enough to offer to want to cross-link you to other sites.

I think you're viewing this as business ethics, which is why it makes you uneasy, and I'm viewing it as marketing, which is why I barely even notice it exists. Truth in advertising? Next up you'll want all women to wear dresses that actually show their unaltered shape instead of hiding those five extra pounds around their waist, and deodorant manufacturers to state how long until their product can't cope under the hot sun, cologne to admit it causes more sneezes in elevators than hot women to be attracted to the wearer, and fashion magazines to admit that no one, at any time or any place, has ever looked good in skinny jeans.

Then again, I am not nearly as connected to the idea that "voluntary association implies approval" when it comes to shopping. If I restricted my buying only to businesses with who agreed with me politically, socially, religiously, and had only given campaign donations to causes I supported - I'd be missing out on great cheese, awesome coffee, produce from the farmer's market, and local honey. (Even if I do giggle for weeks afterwards at "this honey made by free-range bees".)

The Raving Prophet said...

I also tend to look at this more as marketing than ethics.

Let me ask this: So they do business with a variety of virtual storefronts... so what?

Is the ammo being offered at virtual place A significantly different from virtual place B, C, or D? Is one of their virtual storefronts somehow more objectionable than others (racist, sexist, etc.) while the others pretend to be more family friendly?

I know there is the question "what else do they lie about?", but seriously- 500 rounds of Aguila 230gr .45ACP is 500 rounds of Aguila 230gr .45ACP. If they try to shortchange you or bait and switch it will get discovered quickly.

Lacking some other indicator that they are trying to cheat people, I can see why some folks might think this is hinky but I just can't sign on to the outrage. Either they give you what you purchased for the price displayed or they don't. If they do, what does the name matter?

Linoge said...

Still catching up on my post-Christmas reading, but I can only thank Peter for the added eyes on that post, and agree entirely with what he said.