Is it a Brilliant Product or Great Manipulation Skills?

SHEZA FIROZ
Blog
5 MINS READ
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16 December, 2022

Imagine the scene. The glorious weekend is here, and you are enjoying your well-deserved day off work in the shopping mall. As you pass by the pharmacy, you see a huge advertisement. 

On a poster, an unnecessarily smiley young lady holds up a bottle of pills. A speech bubble near her head proclaims “Lose 10 Kilograms in 7 days!”. And as sketchy weight-loss advertisements tend to go, a ‘Before’ and ‘After’ comparison is also offered. Never mind that the model in the two supposedly different images clicked a week apart, is somehow posing, smiling, and dressed identically. Perhaps she stayed in that pose, in the photography studio, for a whole week while eating nothing but those magical pills? While some, like yourself, may be less than impressed with the blatantly unethical and untruthful manipulation tactics employed, others would buy the product. While this is a clear-cut example of manipulative marketing, not every marketing strategy is so obvious. 

In a world where advertising is pervasive and inescapable, consumers must remain well-informed and aware of the ways in which sellers can manipulate them. Analyzing instances of advertising manipulation can serve as a reminder to remain cautious with one’s purchasing choices. 

Case in Point: Freedom Phone 

The Problem: Censorship, Data Snooping, and Restricted Speech

Before getting to the Freedom Phone itself, we must first understand the circumstances in which the phone came about. At the beginning of 2022, the world waited with bated breath to see who will become the next President of the United States. When it became evident that Joe Biden won the vote, supporters of the losing party responded with violence. Armed attackers stormed the U.S. Capitol as the count proceeded, resulting in casualties and property damage. 

Coordination between the violent protestors had occurred in a ‘free-speech’ app called Parler (which was immediately removed from the Play Store and App Store). The removal of the app caused even more controversy, with some deeming it an act against censorship-free speech. One such party is the Bitcoin Millionaire Erik Finman, who introduced the Freedom Phone. 

Introducing the Solution: Freedom Phone 

Finman claims that the Freedom Phone is for the citizen looking to protect their speech and data from surveillance and censorship. In this phone, no apps are banned, no speech is monitored and no data is mined for the profit of companies. A brand-new operating system, called FreedomOS, was developed for the phone, while the typical ‘App Store’ and ‘Play Store’ were replaced by ‘PatriApp’.  Finman further added that the phone performed as well as any modern smartphone while offering the user more, well, freedom. For disgruntled phone users, Finman’s product was the dream. And on the surface, it does seem legitimate. 

The Marketing Strategy:

  • Sponsored Influencer Reviews: 

The first reviews of the phone online are from conservative celebrities. These reviews almost always come with a promo code for the viewers intending to buy the phone, which benefits the influencer. In a hilarious turn of events, a celebrity reviewer claimed to completely switch from the iPhone to the Freedom Phone on Twitter. The only hitch was, this glowing update was flagged by Twitter as being tweeted from an iPhone. 

  • The Referral System: 

The avalanche of glowing celebrity reviews of the Freedom Phone were not accidental - Freedom Phone buyers can actually earn up to $50 in commission with referrals. This is called an Affiliate Scheme, and it makes reviewers appear less objective as they stand to earn money with each purchase they bring. 

The Warning Signs:

  • Absence of vital information: As a tech, reviewers would point out, details about battery life, Camera, and processors are not included anywhere on the website. Unlike major reliable phone companies like Samsung and Apple, there is no contact number on Freedom Phone’s website. 
  • Dubious claims about the ‘FreedomOS’: The Operating System that Finman claimed to develop looks suspiciously similar to an existing, free-to-access system called Lineage OS. This is dodgy marketing at best and a blatant lie at worst. 
  • Cheap Hardware & Blatant Security Risks: Finman himself confirmed that the phone was produced by Umidigi. This company has a reputation for building alarmingly low-cost phones with no consideration for security risks. The chip used in the phone model used by Finman is notorious for Authentication Bypass Attacks, an irony considering how the phone was advertised as championing privacy.
  • Unwarranted Pricing: For a phone that was neither developed nor equipped with apps by the Freedom Phone company, Finman priced the phone at $500. As tech reviewers will point out, adding already free anti-censorship features to an extremely cheap and unreliable phone would mean Finman was trying to bag a 500% markup. 
  • Lack of Experience & Credibility: Erik Finman has no academic or professional background in technology. He rose to prominence by winning a bet with his parents to skip going to college (yes, really). To trust an influencer with no knowledge, background, or experience in the tech industry to create a ‘revolutionary’ product is a recipe for disaster. 

While the ‘Freedom Phone’ is still available for purchase, it has virtually no credibility in the tech world. Nearly every major Tech reviewer will advise against buying it. Now there are even free alternatives for those seeking to protect their data, like replacing Google Chrome with DuckDuckGo, a free browser that protects user data. 

For the buyer that reads the fine print, there is simply no incentive to buy a $500 phone riddled with security risks and dated hardware. The Freedom Phone, at the end of the day, is nothing more than an opportunistic money grab by an Internet Celebrity who appropriated political affairs to manipulate buyers. Let this be a cautionary tale - buyers, please do your research to avoid falling prey to manipulative marketing.

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