Monday September 01, 2014

From sketchy to deceitful, buyers beware


I’ve been collecting a few TV commercials recently for another column on misleading advertising, which, having just come back from Mexico, seem pretty tame by comparison to the tactics employed there, which can be downright deceitful.

For example, the guy who sold us a shopping tour, outright lied to us. To be fair, we didn’t technically buy the shopping tour, we got it for “free”—nothing is ever free—because we bought a couple of other tours to the Mayan ruins, which were excellent.

Nevertheless, he told us we would get to go to a “silver factory” where we would see people making jewellery and get a free gift with a $35US value.

As it turned out, the “silver factory” was just a giant jewellery store full of overpriced goods purveyed by “personal assistants,” which I take is code for high-pressure salespeople.

The “gift” was a very cheap knock-off of a Pandora bracelet, which I’m guessing carries an actual value closer to 35 Pesos (about $3US).

Of course, outright lying in advertising is not something we are totally unfamiliar with in Canada. During last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, the Government of Canada launched an ad campaign for a skills training program that did not then, nor does now, and may never, exist.

When pressed about wasting $2.5 million in taxpayer money on advertising a non-existent program, the government actually tried to spin it into a virtue that they had voluntarily pulled the ads when an “administrative” problem was discovered. In actuality, they were forced to discontinue the campaign by Advertising Standards Canada, which ruled the spots were misleading.

Speaking of misleading, a new commercial for Dove soap ostensibly demonstrates how much gentler Dove is than other “soap” bars by showing a time lapse of the other bars degrading a test paper that supposedly “behaves like the surface of your skin.”

Unilever, the company that makes Dove products, actually won a court challenge in Australia that this particular ad is misleading. The Australian Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) decision turned on a technicality. The complainants argued that it appeared the Dove bar had not been subjected to the same test as the competitive products rather than employing the argument that the test is not a fair demonstration of soap’s effect on skin, which has been used successfully in a similar American suit.

In June 2013, the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus ruled Unilever should pull a similar campaign for body washes. NAD concluded the demonstration did not meet the threshold of evidence and was therefore misleading.

There is some evidence that the type of cleaner Dove is, a detergent rather than a true soap, may be somewhat gentler, but the effect of the comparison suggests other products are actually damaging to skin, which is ludicrous.

Unilever has been sanctioned by the ASA for other sketchy advertising techniques including making false claims that 90 per cent of Kiwi (New Zealand) women recommend Dove hair care products. That claim was based on a very small survey the company conducted. The regulator ruled the claim was over-reaching and breached its Code of Ethics.

Another TV commercial that should instantly raise skepticism is for the no!no! Hair Removal System. The claims seem simply too good to be true and you know what they say about things that seem too good to be true.

The company claims the no!no! does not just remove hair, but reduces hair re-growth and density. This simply does not make sense. The only way to reduce hair re-growth is by destroying the follicles, something not claimed by the advertiser.

The company does claim to have scientific evidence, but it has never submitted any and the product is still not approved by the FDA in the U.S. On the other hand, a study out of Vanderbilt University determined the no!no! was no more effective than shaving.

The informercials also make it look like using the product is even easier than using a razor. What they don’t tell you is that after you burn the hair off (oh yeah, they don’t tell you that either) you have to scrub your skin with an abrasive pad (included) to remove the burnt stubble. Sounds like at least double the work and potentially more painful to me.

Here is my favourite part, though. The ads tell you that you should use it daily for six weeks and then leave it for six weeks and note how the hair doesn’t come back. If you’re not completely satisfied, it has a 60-day money-back guarantee. Something doesn’t exactly add up here. Six weeks and six weeks is three months, or about 90 days. If you try it as instructed, by the time you’re done, you will be ineligible for the money-back guarantee. Not that it probably matters, though, as thousands of online product reviews suggest even if you do apply to get your money back within the 60 days, you’re probably in for a protracted and fruitless battle.

The last ad is just kind of amusing. The latest U by Kotex tampon commercial ends with the guarantee: “If you don’t love them, your next box is on us.”

The immediate question is, if you don’t love them, why would you want another box?

Of course, that’s not what they mean. It is marketing speak for, “If you’re not satisfied, we will refund your money,” up to a minimal amount, subject to myriad restrictions and involving a prohibitive process.

Advertisers make these kinds of empty promises all the time to demonstrate confidence in their product and counting on the fact the vast majority of customers will not bother to go to all the trouble.

In this case, you have to download their reimbursement form, fill it out by hand and mail it in along with your original U receipt, your receipt for the competitive replacement product dated subsequent to the original purchase and the UPC labels from both packages to receive a refund of up to $5US. It is also a limited time offer, from January 1 to April 30 to be exact, and there are a slew of other restrictions when you read the fine print on the form. All that for five bucks? No thank you.

As always, when it comes to marketing and advertising, be careful out there.



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