It’s time again for your annual national convention, and this year you’ve decided to take the entire family. The venue is perfect: dependably mild weather, world–renowned restaurants, and plenty for the kids to do. And the program holds enough interesting lectures to keep you enthralled for the 3-day duration of the meeting. Your wife offers to make the hotel reservations to ensure that she will be fulfilled by this brief getaway. She verifies the meeting dates and proceeds to register you and your family for the stay.
About 2 weeks later, your professional organization calls to ask why you haven’t made hotel reservations for the meeting. They are eager to take a head count but are perplexed as to why you are not on this year’s roster. Your wife states that she has registered you directly through the hotel, but after reviewing the confirmation, she realizes that she was deceived by an Internet site that resembled that of the hotel. Not only were the guest room rates in the misleading site more expensive, but also the room for which you had placed a deposit was outside your organization’s room block. Your room will overlook the parking lot instead of the beach. And rather than a spacious suite for your family of five, you are relegated to accommodations of modest size where you’ll all live elbow-to-elbow for 3 days!
Deceptive advertising is not a new phenomenon, and it permeates the professional world as well as the commercial arena. Claims of superiority such as “the best orthodontist in town” or “certified with the most experience as a premier provider with the XYZ appliance” are examples. Other claims without any basis of support or method of comparison, such as “expert in the treatment of underbites” can be equally misleading. If all orthodontists completed an accredited university or hospital-based orthodontic program, a potential patient might ask how 1 practitioner could be markedly superior to the others.
Alluring tricks can be deceptive. Consider the orthodontist who lists his practice as Aaron A. Able and Associates. If a viewer chose to peruse the names of local orthodontists by alphabetical listing, there would be few offices listed before that of A. A. Able. And if the viewer called that “Able” office and learned that Zachary Zorro was the authentic orthodontist at that location, would the viewer feel misled? Or if that viewer realized that a provider advertised himself as a “boarded orthodontist” by a nonrecognized entity, would he consider himself to be deceived?
In the commercial realm, advertising can be regulated by organizations such as the Better Business Bureau or governmental agencies. Yet as professionals, we have maintained our ability to function with less governmental influence than other occupations in exchange for the benefits that we offer society. This liberty must be valued and respected as a privilege rather than a right, and thus should not be abused.
Deceptive advertising is a violation of the ethical principle of veracity (truth). It can not only induce a negative attitude toward the advertisement, but also create mistrust toward the individual or profession promoted by the advertisement. Research has shown that skeptical viewers often devise their own counterarguments toward a misleading advertising source. In some cases, the beguiled viewers felt antagonistic toward renowned name brands with proven benefits. Deceptive advertising can thus be counterproductive.
Your experience with the third-party hotel reservation service has shaken your confidence and piqued your suspicion about future hotel reservations. Although orthodontic advertising is now recognized as legitimate, the profile of our ads must be constructed with veracity to avoid tarnishing us as individual orthodontists or the profession as a whole. We must be committed to communicating an image of quality rather than one of commercialism or an overwhelming profit motive. Our individual and collective futures depend on it.