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Once upon a time, one could “stretch” a claim in an ad or a sales presentation and it would likely go unchallenged. But that was before the Internet opened the door to fact checking by any one, on virtually any thing, at any time.

Today, what we put in our ads or say in our sales presentations to prospective customers better be factual or we’ll surely be called out! Case in point: the latest TV commercial from General Motors. In it, Ed Whitacre, GM’s CEO, announces the “new” GM. He proceeds to tell us: “We have repaid our government loan, in full, with interest” – and he does it with a straight face.

Now, that would certainly be great news . . . if it were only true. But, a simple fact check reveals it’s not. So, what we have is a really good textbook example of making a dumb decision to twist facts for ad purposes that a little checking will easily show to be false.

What Whitacre is talking about is GM’s latest repayment of $5.8 billion to the U.S. Treasury (including some to Canada.) Unfortunately, a simple fact check shows that GM has essentially repaid a TARP loan . . . with cash from another TARP loan! That’s because when GM was being bailed out, an account totaling $17.4 billion was set up for GM at the Treasury. When $6.7 billion in TARP loans was paid back, an additional $5.6 billion was released to GM. Want to play under which shell is the pea?

But you really don’t even have to research the TARP loan facts. That’s because virtually every breathing American knows taxpayers invested about $50 billion and got a 61 percent stake in GM. Oh, and don’t forget the additional $16 billion that went to bail out GMAC. Why, even GM’s Stephen J. Girsky, vice chairman, reportedly admitted in a TV interview that the statement in the commercial was not true.

The point here isn’t GM, of course. If its chairman wants to be in commercials and make statements that everyone with a pulse knows can’t be true, that’s up to him. The real point is everyone knows . . . or can easily find out.

When it comes to selling boats, truthful claims are even more important. That’s because we’re usually dealing with prospects most prone to do their homework, both before and after they visit us in our showrooms. Yes, there’s always a temptation in creating an ad or in face-to-face selling to make the proposition sound “too good to be true.” But these days, making claims that aren’t factual will not sell products or garner respect in the marketplace.

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Metstrade Day Three

Soundings Trade Only Editor in Chief Michael Verdon continues his conversations with marine industry executives from the U.S. and around the world.