Today Alexa Crowe, our gift buyer here at Wellesley Booksmith, received a very exciting e-mail saying that our store had been selected for the 2008 Best of Wellesley Award in the Used & Rare Books category by the U.S. Local Business Association (USLBA). The message went on to explain the following:
In recognition of your achievement, a 2008 Best of Wellesley Award plaque has been designed for display at your place of business. You may arrange to have your award sent directly to Wellesley Booksmith by following the simple steps on the 2008 Best of Wellesley Award order form. Simply copy and paste this link into your browser to access the order form: (link removed).
The USLBA "Best of Local Business" Award Program recognizes outstanding local businesses throughout the country. Each year, the USLBA identifies companies that we believe have achieved exceptional marketing success in their local community and business category. These are local companies that enhance the positive image of small business through service to their customers and community.
Wow. Isn’t it so nice to be recognized for our hard work BY AN ORGANIZATION THAT DOESN’T EXIST?!? Yes, if my title didn’t already give it away or you hadn’t already smelled a rat here, the fact is that the U.S. Local Business Association does not actually exist, and this faux award is a ploy to get us to buy a very expensive plaque announcing our achievement. We are just one of who-knows-how-many small businesses to receive this very same e-mail, as it evidenced by Googling the USLBA or reading the comments on a related post about such "vanity scams" on the blog at ResponsibleMarketing.com.
Fortunately our store is not so desperate for "faux plaques," seeing as how we’ve earned a few real ones and (more importantly) we get a lot of kudos from our customers and our larger community. But, man. Isn’t it just a slap in the face to think that businesses out there might be falling for scams like this? Or that individuals might actually be paying to be members of Who’s Who? And, just as interestingly, to wonder if a store’s customers are impressed by the awards they see decorating a store’s walls, even if they aren’t familiar with the organizations that (supposedly) awarded them.
This last bit is the part that really interests me, because, of COURSE I’ve unwittingly put stock in the awards I’ve seen displayed in a business, even when they were given by trade groups of which I have no knowledge. This does not mean that seeing those awards has been enough to sway my choice of whether or not to give someone my business, but it’s true that seeing someone recognized for doing good work can make you think better of them or do a tiny bit to tip those business scales. Why else do publishers put blurbs by other authors on the covers of books, or list the awards a book has won? Do you think your average customer in Massachusetts has any familiarity with the Texas Bluebonnet Award? No. They probably don’t. Nevertheless, if they see that a book won that award, they might be just a teensy bit more inclined to buy it.
This does NOT mean that I approve of "vanity scams" like this one. But perhaps any businesses that DO fall for it will wind up with a plaque that isn’t entirely worthless? Whether or not that’s the case, I’d like to find the creators of this so-called "USLBA" and send them a plaque for this award: "BIGGEST LOSER." (Or perhaps something a bit more colorful.)