Wednesday, July 13, 2005

A Sucker Born Every Minute 

P.T. Barnum never did say, "There's a sucker born every minute." But, there is a sucker born every minute as this story proves. What responsibility do companies have to people who are easily duped? That's a question of public relations for which I don't have a ready answer. There are obvious statements that companies shouldn't set out to bilk others, but on the other hand, some people blunder into harm.

Are companies responsible for harm that individuals have caused themselves? For example, I had a relative who severely cut his leg when he picked up a running lawnmower that he was trying to carry across a concrete walk. Was the lawnmower manufacturer responsible for that dumb move? I don't think so, but you will find lawnmowers today have clutches on them that disengage the blade, and the clutches must be engaged constantly by hand while one is mowing.

Manufacturers claim there are far too many torts in the US from people who should know better. This is partially, or even largely true, but it doesn't help a company's reputation with consumers to remind them that they have responsibilities too. Consumers don't want to hear that. Should PR take the consumer's point of view? I don't think so. The 11% of computer users who buy from spammers deserve to be cheated. They know better, or they ought to know better by now. And, they make the internet worse for the rest of us who have to clean out hundreds of spams weekly -- or in my case, daily. The suckers born every minute harm all of us, but they blame us for their failures.


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