Advertising Trickery

Why do advertisers always tout the upper range of anything desirable? (Because they’re advertisers. Duh!) They say a car will get up to 30 miles to the gallon. Does anyone bring one back, saying, “I want to return this. I consistently get 40 miles to the gallon.”

No. They bring the car back if they only get 10 miles per gallon, but the dealer can say, “We only claim ‘up to 30,’ and that’s what you got.”

I recently got a new computer tablet. Same story. The advertising claims “up to 14 hours of battery life.” I want to know the “at least” value, the value they will stand behind, the value I can count on.

And they can do it.  When it came to shipping, they said, “Ships in 3 – 5 business days.” There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

They could say “typically,” as in “Battery life is typically 10 hours.” I would accept that, but then they would have to define “typically.” It is easier to say “up to” and depend on their customer’s gullibility.

Walt Mossburger, who wrote a technology column for The Wall Street Journal several years ago, had a battery test for laptops that involved a heavy drain, like playing movies.  I was not watching movies, but he ended up with a specific number that could be compared with other brands and that I could use as a lower limit for my less demanding chores. (If the battery lasted 12 hours under his test, surely it would last at least that long for my simpler use.  This was years ago when I needed to know if I could finish what I was working on while traveling.  Now, of course, battery life no longer matters to me.  If the battery runs out, I’ll just go back to bed.)

And there is one other technique of misinterpreting the figures, which I see at least once a night on the TV commercials.  That is touting a very precise discount on an undetermined price.

The main example is installing no-clog rain gutters on your house, touted by a guy always holding a coffee cup and talking in a matter-of-fact manner.  Call this week for an estimate and get 20% off the installation price, he says.  Of course, they simply increase the estimate to cover the discount.  Do they think we are stupid?

(The gutters don’t collect leaves, but don’t collect rain, either. They don’t mention that. In a heavy rain, the water shoots right past the opening.  In a light rain, leaves get hung up on the edge, allowing the water to drip on your head.)

They even add a certificate for a dinner for two (they don’t say where) and a $100 bonus if you call within the next hour.  Of course, the customer is paying for this as part of the final estimate.  Does anyone believe it is the gratuitous generosity of the company?  If they can offer so much, how high must the estimate be inflated?  Just tell me the real price, and I’ll get my own dinner.

Many other companies use the same tactics.  I have seen it used by plumbers, HVAC installers (pronounced Ach-Vak), and auto repair shops.

I used to say I wouldn’t patronize any company that resorts to these tactics, but they all do.  Who’s left to call when I need a plumber? And . . . I expect the standard 10% senior discount.

About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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