Integrity in Advertising and Strat-O-Matic Baseball

By Chris Blair

We often get calls from clients who think they need a particular type of promotional product or service, be it a new website, an instructional video, a print brochure, a television campaign, or a new logo. But many times after meeting and discussing their needs, it becomes clear the client needs something entirely different.

We’ve even occasionally recommended services that we don’t provide because they better serve the client’s advertising needs. After all, our job is to help clients communicate to their customers…not just take their money for something they think they need.

Unfortunately, not all advertising and marketing companies are that honest with their clients. I’ve seen it time and again during the 25 years I’ve worked in this business. Advertising agencies, TV and radio stations, newspapers and internet companies selling products and services that have little chance of helping their clients promote themselves.

I’ve never understood this mentality. It’s like convincing someone to buy an overpriced, overhyped product that doesn’t actually work as advertised. When the customer gets home and realizes they’ve bought a crappy product, they’re not only angry it doesn’t work right, they also feel like they were duped by the hype! This type of selling virtually guarantees clients won’t come back. 

I remember my very first experience with something like this. I was 8 years old and along with my 3 brothers, I was a sports fanatic. I read every sporting publication I could get my hands on, from Sports Illustrated to the Sporting News. It was the latter publication where I first saw “the ad.”It was a half-page spread promoting Strat-O-Matic baseball. The advertisement glowed about the game being the most “realistic simulation of major league baseball” you could buy. It must’ve used the word “realistic 25 times!

It also heavily promoted its revolutionary “automatic umpire,” which conjured images of a small toy waving his arms and barking “safe” when a player slid into a base. Now never mind that the 1969 era advertisement DID say exactly once that Strat-O-Matic was a “board game.” To an 8 year old, all that talk of “realistic” translated into some sort of magical, animated electronic game similar to electronic football, except with figures that could move their arms and legs!

My brothers and I were all over that. We scraped and saved and finally pooled enough money to order this wonder of gameplay. I don’t have to tell you how supremely disappointed we all were when it arrived. It was a board game with dice and cards and reams of statistics that to us was about as interesting as reading the dictionary. It made Monopoly look revolutionary. To four boys ages 8 to 12, it SUCKED! Of course we were probably idiots for conjuring such a fantastic vision from “the ad.” But that vision came directly from how it was written. We all interpreted what it said literally! Now either that’s some good writing or it’s deceptive. Thinking back, I think it was a little of both.

Amazingly, Strat-O-Matic continues to be a thriving enterprise today, and their website STILL uses the word “realistic” about a hundred times to describe their games, which now include baseball and football and come in traditional board and computer versions. I’m sure it’s a wonderful game that thousands enjoy and think is worth every penny. But you will never catch me buying or promoting it because even now, 42 years later, I STILL hold a grudge against Strat-O-Matic and their advertising copywriters. I think their descriptions were and still are deceptive. How can a game that basically takes statistics and packages them into a board game be “realistic?” Realistic to me is sitting in a flight simulator cockpit and feeling like you’re actually flying, or going to Epcot and riding “Soarin,” an attraction that simulates hang gliding. Rolling dice and turning over cards with statistics on them is NOT realistic.

Fast-forward to today. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve worked on projects and objected to how a client wanted something written or photographed. It’s a huge dilemma. Just like with Strat-O-Matic baseball, there’s a fine line between truth and hype. So what do we do in those situations? We try to politely point out that the writing or photography might be confusing to a consumer. Sometimes we win the argument, more often we lose. I can’t help but feel like I’m sometimes playing on the same team as the Strat-O-Matic guys. Considering how they made me feel as an 8 year old boy, I’m not sure how I feel about that today!

So the moral to the story is simple. Try to do what’s right! When creating advertising for clients, consider how it portrays the clients’ products and services. Integrity in advertising is important, so advise them when you think the writing or imagery crosses the line. Ultimately you won’t always have the final say and you won’t always win, but it’s your duty to try. Now…”play ball.”