One of the side effects of working as a marketing professional is that instead of being affected by marketing, you find yourself a judge of other marketing efforts. Commercials are interesting to me now, not so much for the product, but rather picking apart the methods used to sell a product. It’s sometimes surprising and usually comical how many companies stand in the dark ages with their marketing tactics. It’s also sometimes a bit sad to see that many companies that you would figure should know better, still use shady practices.

It’s pretty hard to admit to signing up for an online matchmaking service. Somehow, people still seem to find online dating as a cheaters alternative to the good old days of bar-hopping on a Saturday night. Nevertheless, it hasn’t stopped me from seeing what all the fuss is about.

The first question that comes to my mind when visiting these types of websites is “how did they get started?” I can’t help but amusing myself with thoughts of some poor lonely sap being the first user to sign up at a dating website that he randomly crossed while surfing the web. The truth is though, most dating sites are moderated, but you still have to be very careful kick-start their website by creating thousands of fake profiles to entice users into registering. While I can see that this would be a necessary step to help improve user registration, it’s also pretty shady. Giving somebody false hope by lying to them is not a good way to establish a business.

Eventually though, once traffic has achieved some sustainability, these fake accounts are probably abandoned or deleted in favor of real users. Sadly, this doesn’t necessarily mean the end of bad marketing practices. I signed up for a new account and spent about 15 minutes building my profile before I was able to search for some matches that met my criteria. Another 15 minutes later, I signed out, having exhausted the list of profiles matching my search criteria and dismissing each one for one reason or another. It was fairly obvious that the site didn’t have enough compatible users for me to fully register for a paid account, so I logged out and moved on to a marathon of YouTube cat videos.

The next day, nearly a perfect 24 hours after signing up, my cell buzzed with an email notification. “She chose you!” the subject said, and of course, I was instantly intrigued. Minutes later, I had sat down at my computer and clicked on the link in the email.

I should have expected it, but sure enough, clicking on the link brought me to a subscription page. “Only subscribers can see this page” was the error text that I was given, followed shortly by a list of contracts and prices. Instantly, my marketing alter-ego kicked in, and I started to pry around looking for inconsistencies. Some pages said “10 people have viewed your profile,” while others said that “7 people have viewed your profile, click here to see them!”

It didn’t take long to figure out that it was just another marketing tactic. Just to prove my point, I ran a test. I signed up for another account under a fake email address I created. I added a stock-photo image that I had access too, and left the rest of the profile empty. Once created, I logged out and awaited the results of my test. Sure enough, precisely 24 hours later, I got an email in my fake inbox. “She chose you!” The simple fact here is that this company is using some dirty tactics to pressure a subscription purchase. Not only are they lying to create emotional attachment, they are leveraging that attachment to incite a purchase.

If you want the secret to success, here it is:

People remember experiences, not price tags. Aiming for a one-time sale by pressuring a customer with a “used car salesman” may cause you to lose that customer forever and you will have robbed yourself of the most prime form of marketing available to you: word of mouth. Yes, you may lose the sale today, but people will remember how you treated them. That reputation is worth far more than the profit of a single sale.