Lately, I have been listening to a certain radio advertisement bombarding the New York subway news station that I enjoy listening to. The reason I like this station is simple: It’s smart, it’s interesting, and it conveys John Sterling / Susan Waldman Yankee commentary during the season’s games.
However, this particular radio ad strikes me so full of misleading marketing language that I get the hedgehog every time it rings. Not only does it give my profession a bad rap, but it may be fooling thousands of naive consumers into signing up and becoming victims of what I almost consider fraud. But, too cleverly manipulative for that, he probably cannot even be found guilty of deception, since all the statements made are true. But it’s definitely misleading unsuspecting listeners to interpret these “true” statements as a good reason to respond to the ad and commit to the advertised service, only to later discover the naivety of your naive decision to do so.
Let me explain: The ad starts out as an ad in an authoritative tone that claims it can save American car owners thousands of dollars in auto repair bills. As long as you have less than 200,000 miles on your car (like most people do), you’ll never have to pay a car repair bill out of your own pocket again! The advertiser will pay it for you. If you’re sick and tired of spending your hard-earned money on car repairs, call to see if you qualify! (This places you on the responsibility of proving that you are one of the eligible car owners under 200,000 miles who can take advantage of this advertising hoax to trick you into buying.)
You can even maintain your own mechanic or auto repair service and have the advertiser pay the bills for you. This includes all the more advanced automotive technology repairs you might need! (Again, they say this to get you off course and think about what kinds of repairs your car may need now or in the future and if you will qualify.) So far, everything they’ve said with the possible exception of “saving you thousands of dollars” has been true. That is until you read between the lines.
No, you won’t spend your hard-earned money on your car repair bill. Instead, you’ll spend your hard-earned money to pay them a fee to represent you and pay your car repair bill for you. And while they claim you can save a lot of money, you may actually be paying more by turning them into brokers. After all, they are in business to make money. They won’t do this for nothing. And how can they afford these expensive radio spots on such a powerful New York station? Only through the responses of hundreds of unsuspecting customers who sign up en masse.
So what do you get out of it? You might have a lot of trouble if you sign a contract and don’t pay your fee, and who knows what else! They probably make it look like they’re giving you great service by ensuring that they will pay for your car repair on your old junk (under 200,000 miles), allowing you to keep driving and hopefully go to work (if you still have a job) while they wait for you to cover the bill (possibly late) with interest.
I’m guessing all the finer details, but you can see the risks I’m pointing out. I remember hearing of a similar fraudulent attempt by another automatic payment company in recent years that was being distributed by mail. I later received a series of telemarketing calls about it. Now, I am hearing this announcement from a different company on the radio. Could it be the same organization operating under a different name? And ironically, as quickly as I recognized it, I suddenly don’t hear it anymore, which may also be part of your formula – running it for a short time to rack up new customers and then disappearing into thin air, so to speak. These are the kinds of questions I ask, as I am naturally suspicious of marketing claims that generate these kinds of red flags.
The concept is much like the service a credit card offers: you pay with plastic and then pay the credit card company with interest for their generosity in allowing you to pay over time. But we all know the enormous risk involved, as a nation and as a world, with unsolvable economic problems everywhere! If you are one of the unfortunate people who has lost the privilege of using some or all of your many credit cards, this auto repair payment service advertisement may sound quite appealing, especially if old Bertha is making horrible noises and putting your trip in jeopardy. But I urge you to be careful and carry a big club.
So what exactly are the laws regarding misleading advertising? According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Office of Consumer Protection, there are three attributes that determine whether an ad is false or unfair:
1. If it offends public order;
2. If it is immoral, unethical, oppressive or unscrupulous; gold,
3. if it substantially harms consumers.
This last point is considered the most important in weighing whether the ad is false or unfair, and the customer’s injuries are typically based on the loss of money as a result of a purchase that would never have been made if the ad hadn’t been misleading in the first place. place. False statements are determined by whether they are false at face value; or if they are implicitly false. In my opinion, the above radio ad may be making a blatantly false claim by saying that it can save you huge sums of money if you use their service. However, with a clever twist of interpretation, that statement could be considered true if you attribute your savings to payments made directly to auto repair providers.
If you don’t pay your mechanic directly For your car repairs, you’re essentially saving that money. However, you will need to use that “saved” money to pay the auto repair payment company that will pay your mechanic for you, regardless of how misleadingly they are advertising their service. Does this sound ethical to you? Also, I think the ad says “may save you” rather than “will save you”, which implies that there may be other conditions involved that you need to meet to make sure your claim can meet as stated.
Based on the complaints the FTC receives, some consistent issues come up, most often about undisclosed costs and conditions. Responsible radio advertisers avoid legal trouble simply by adding a statement such as “Restrictions may apply,” while some overzealous advertisers spend a good percentage of radio spot time explaining in detail a lengthy spiel of disclosures delivered to a incredible speed, making it virtually impossible to understand what is being said. Depending on the space available, the FTC advises advertisers to use visuals that reveal details “clearly and conspicuously.” If space is limited, maybe the 3-word disclaimer mentioned above will suffice, but the fine print and deliberately ambiguous terminology are frowned upon.
What the FTC allows or regulates appears to be a somewhat gray area with decisions depending on whether the announcement is national or regional in scope; if you represent an industry regulated by another branch of government (such as airlines, banks, insurance companies, common carriers, and companies that sell securities and commodities); or if it can be solved by some other more local agency like the Better Business Bureau. As stated above, the most vital to the FTC appear to be issues involving consumer injury, whether it be to “health, safety or wallet.”
Penalties for noncompliance can be severe and range from a simple “cease and desist” order that, if not properly obeyed, increases to $ 16,000 per day for additional violations; to fines running into the millions of dollars where appropriate, sometimes requiring refunds to consumers affected by the offending ad; to post new ads and contact buyers to correct previously misleading information.
If an advertisement has hurt you in any way as a result of deceptive practices, you have the right to file a complaint with the FTC and to contact an attorney. If the offending ad is long enough, your case may be considered suitable for a class action lawsuit, which involves many plaintiffs in addition to you. Keep in mind, however, that regardless of how noble your attorneys’ representation may seem in such cases, it is generally the attorneys who benefit the most in class action lawsuits.
What if you think a competitor’s ad is misleading? You have a few options, some or all of which you can follow:
1. You can contact an attorney to explore whether to sue for unfair competition by making misleading claims in advertisements.
2. You may file a complaint with the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, which investigates and resolves such disputes at both the national and regional levels.
3. If the ad is local, you can contact your local Better Business Bureau to file a complaint.
4. You can contact the print or broadcast media where the ad was published to report your suspicions about the misleading nature of the ad.
5. You can contact your state Attorney General’s Office or your city, county or state Office of Consumer Affairs to report the problem.
6. Finally, you can contact the Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Response Center, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580; or call toll free 1-877-FTC-HELP.
As a tip from a marketer, if you are an advertiser who uses vague, or worse, duplicity techniques to disguise the full truth of your message, keep this in mind:
“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low prices is forgotten.” – Benjamin Franklin
Translation: A disgruntled customer will share their unpleasant experience not only with their friends and family, but will also spread the bad word about you on blogs, forums, and chat rooms, giving your business a negative reputation where you can never to live. Today’s Google-dominated universe. If your advertising misdeed was unintentional, it will be far less costly to try to win back the loyalty of a dissatisfied customer with a valid complaint than to try to weather the devastating winter of their discontent.