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How to Lie With Statistics

October 19th, 2007 by Bob Bly

You can manipulate statistics to prove just about any point you want to make in your copy.

A case in point: the TV commercial for Senior Lending Network, a company marketing reverse mortgages to senior citizens.

It’s a direct response spot with a strong call to action: phone the toll-free number and get a free educational video on reverse mortgages.

When you think about it, this is like a local plumber telling you, “Yes, I am a very good plumber — I get many calls from my Yellow Pages ad.”

That’s only proof that he runs a big ad. If 90% of his service calls are repeat business from satisfied customers, then THAT’S more convincing proof that he is a good plumber, because his customers are happy.

The on-camera spokesperson, actor Robert Wagner, intones in a serious voice: “over a million Americans have already called Senior Lending Network to get this important information.”

Sounds impressive until you realize that it says nothing about how many customers have actually completed transactions with Senior Lending Network for a mortgage.

What it really means is that their copywriter wrote a really persuasive TV spot with a really strong free offer.

Impressive, yes, but hardly a reason to do business with them, wouldn’t you agree?


This entry was posted on Friday, October 19th, 2007 at 1:49 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

664 responses about “How to Lie With Statistics”

  1. Michael Roach said:

    I agree… But I think your title is a little outlandish.

    Throwing in that meaningless fact could perhaps be considered a little deceptive — it distracts the viewer into thinking it’s somehow impressive or important — but it’s not a lie.

  2. Bob Bly said:

    I could have said: how to prove your point with statistics.

    But it’s not as dramatic.

    Actually, my title is the title of a book about — what else — using statistics to win arguments.

  3. Abdul Rahman said:

    Bob, do you consider “partial truth” as a lie?

  4. Richard Armstrong said:

    I’m not sure I’d do business with the insurance company, but I’d definitely do business with their direct-response agency!

  5. Nick Mankitis said:

    Bob You just touched the tip of the iceberg in terms of deception with this group. First of all what they do is sell those “leads” to anyone (mortgage broker) who will spend between $75-90. Then they will inturn call the senior client. The firm may not even know what a reverse mortgage is but they bought the lead. Secondly, this Senior Lending Network also has its own origination division Vertical Lend which will originate leads. So if two leads are called in by prospective borrowers which live right next to each other one more viable than the other you surmise for yourself which one is sold for $90 and which one is nurtured internally by the sister company. These people deal with our seniors???Wow scary!Clever marketing or blatant deception??

  6. Jodi Kaplan said:

    Well, as you know, there are lies, damn lies, and statistics.

    This reminds me of the ads that say “as seen on TV”, or “as seen in XYZ magazine” — implying some sort of endorsement, when the truth is the company placed an ad on TV or in the magazine.

    Frankly, those reverse mortgage ads scare me.

  7. Bob Bly said:

    JK: Don’t condemn reverse mortgage as an industry; they perform a valuable service: allowing cash-strapped seniors to live in the home they love when they can no longer afford the monthly payments. My mom’s good friend and neighbor gave up her home, sold it, and lives in a crappy apartment because no one told her about reverse mortgages.

  8. Bob said:

    Is this any different than my wife’s podiatrist who bills himself as the “Olympic Team Doctor” with pictures of the Athens Olympics all over his office and his press credentials hanging on every doornob. Oh and the best is the jersey’s that are signed by all the Olympic Players of the team he was the “Official Podiatrist” for which terned out to be the Lithuanian (Level What? Tier Who?) Track Team.

    He really PR’ed this up too, he had newspaper clippings from his home town (not the town he practiced in) talking about how he was to be the “Olympic Doctor” and all.

    This doc donated his time to the team which he probably didn’t do very much but clip a toenail or two but people believe that picture he is painting in his ads and waiting rooms.

  9. Jerry Bullard said:

    Hi Bob. This reminds me of a blurb on the front of a book that claimed, “Over one million copies in print!” Somebody in the bookstore was glancing at the cover and asked, “Oh yeah…one million copies in print. How many copies were actually sold?”

  10. Tom Koziol said:

    Anyone interested in learning the real skinny on reverse mortgages should visit: They tell the story as it exists and not as it should be. BTW, the Robert Wagner commercial is nothing more than a lead generating commercial as one commenter already said. The most important factor in a reverse mortgage is the fees charged. They vary by company so it is mandatory for any senior contemplating one of these mortgages to shop around.

    Tom Koziol
    Executive Director

  11. Leora Bell said:

    The so-called statistic claiming over a million people have called is probably a lie in itself. I received a letter from this group that began like this: “Thank you for calling for your FREE reverse mortgage DVD.” I never called these people!!!

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