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September 18, 2017

Is It a Feature Story or a Commercial?

Filed under: Business,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:50 am

On September 6, Inside Edition ran a story during their daily program where a dermatologist was being interviewed giving tips to viewers on how to maintain a youthful, healthy appearance. Toward the end of the segment she recommends a particular product for the face and neck.

Here is the web version of the story (which may vary slightly from the TV version which our story is about):

Click arrow to play video

It only began to sound fishy when the dermatologist started ticking off all the benefits of the cream and then said it was a bargain at Target.

To the best of MrConsumer’s memory, there was no conspicuous disclosure at the beginning of the TV version of the piece nor at the end to indicate that the doctor was a paid endorser, as it appears at the end of web version.

In fact, it was at the end of the TV show in the credits that the following disclosure appeared, captured live as it aired:


Inside Edition disclaimer

So what’s the problem here? There are actually two issues. First, this story had the look and feel of any other segment on Inside Edition when in fact it was a mini-infomercial for a product. In Federal Trade Commission-speak, this is “native advertising” where an ad is made to look just like the surrounding content in form and style. And the FTC has guidelines saying there should be clear and conspicuous disclosure that this is actually advertising.

There were some half-hearted attempts within the piece to make disclosures. The voiceover states in passing toward the beginning “we teamed up with No7.” The trouble is the viewer has no idea what “No7” is because it is not a familiar product name and has not yet been introduced on the screen. That disclosure doesn’t clearly convey that this is really an ad. It is several minutes after the piece ends in the TV version that the bold on-screen disclosure is made, as shown just above.

Secondly, under the FTC’s guides governing endorsements and testimonials, since it appeared that the doctor was merely a guest being interviewed on a television program and was not acting in a commercial, the viewer would have no idea she was being paid by the manufacturer. Thus, a clear disclosure of that fact was necessary. In our view, the identifier thrown up on the screen for a mere three seconds — “Dr. Doris Day — Dermatologist/No7 Spokesperson” — would not be noticed or understood by most viewers to clearly convey the fact that this doctor had been paid for these comments. And the disclosure at the end of the program was too late.

Dr. Doris Day

We wrote to the executive producer of Inside Edition raising these issues, asking why better disclosure was not made, and whether it would be in future pieces. To date, no response has been received.

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September 11, 2017

Brush Your Teeth and Get Vitamins Too?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:16 am

For years, product manufacturers have added vitamins to their products as a marketing tool to boost health conscious consumers’ interest in them. Now comes a new product called Vitaminpaste®. You guessed it — a toothpaste with vitamins (and curiously, no fluoride).


Here’s how it is advertised:


The company claims that you “Get extra vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants every time you brush.” The ad also says the product is safe to swallow.

To us, what’s hard to understand is the claim that this product is going to boost your intake of vitamins. The ad doesn’t list all the vitamins in the paste, and neither it nor their website specifies the amounts of each in the product. So… we found a tube in the store and checked the back.


Vitaminpaste ingredients

An inch of toothpaste delivers just 7% of the daily requirement of eight vitamins and minerals. And maybe if you ate the stuff, you would get that small boost of vitamins. But most people spit out toothpaste. And even the back of the box recommends you spit it out and rinse the residue.



So the question becomes, can vitamins and minerals be absorbed by the body just by being in your mouth for a minute or less? The company’s answer is actually on the back of the box in small print.


absorb rate

According to them, you only get 10% of the listed daily requirement. That means you get 7/10ths of one percent of each vitamin per brushing.

For about $4.99 for a 4.1 ounce tube, this whole thing is hard to swallow.

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September 4, 2017

Did You Fall for the Whole Foods Price Cuts Hype?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:05 am

It seems like virtually every newspaper and media outlet carried stories at the end of August breathlessly touting price cuts at Whole Foods now that Amazon has taken over the high-priced chain.

Whole Foods Headlines

One would think with such headlines that everything in the store was now at bargain basement prices. Nothing could be further from the truth. All these reporters were buying what Amazon was selling in their press release without checking the true extent of the price cuts and how that would affect the average shopper.

MrConsumer made a visit to the medium size Whole Foods in Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood two days before the price drop and again twice last week afterwards. Rather than finding large signs all over the store proclaiming that thousands of items had been cut in price, it appeared that very little had changed.


365 Tomato sauce

On his third store visit, the day after the price drops, MrConsumer went up and down every aisle, electronic clicker in hand, trying to count every item bearing the Whole Foods + Amazon orange logo signaling a new lower price. The final count: only 49 items were cut in price. Put another way, Amazon did not reduce the price of 99.5% of the estimated 10,000 items carried by the average Whole Foods store. A Whole Foods spokesperson confirmed the number of items carried, but refused to discuss the list of affected products or even just the number of items reduced.

Some of these products were accounted for multiple times in the overall tally, like the seven flavors of one brand of tomato sauce, the four varieties of one brand of eggs, and the over half a dozen sizes of bottled water. Together, those three products alone accounted for nearly 40 percent of all the price reductions.

Now, were there legitimate and sizable price reductions? Absolutely. Atlantic salmon went from $12.99 a pound to $9.99, and fancy schmancy ground beef in a cryovac package dropped from $8.99 to $6.99 a pound. Are these now bargains? Not exactly. Are more price reductions coming? They say so.

Salmon before/after

Amazon and Whole Foods were masterful at getting the media to promote an almost nonexistent price drop, and in turn at helping them counteract the supermarket’s high-price image. The reality is that the average shopper will barely notice any savings in their weekly grocery bill at least in the short-run.

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August 28, 2017

Is Your Samsung Warranty Missing? (It May be No Accident)

Filed under: Electronics — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:31 am

A few weeks ago, MrConsumer recounted some surprises found in Samsung television warranties concerning black bars on the screen. The biggest surprise, however, was this: the $400+ television did not come with a copy of manufacturer’s warranty in the box.

Since MrConsumer used his Citi Double Cash credit card to buy the TV, which provides an extra TWO YEARS of coverage beyond that provided by the manufacturer, it was critical to have a copy of the original warranty.

A visit to Samsung’s website proved to be a waste of time:

Samsung- no warranty info

A call to Samsung’s 800 number also proved to be fruitless. Neither the customer service agent nor her supervisor could provide it. The supervisor even erroneously suggested that a serial number (not just a model number) was needed in order to get a copy.

Doesn’t federal law require that a copy be in the box?


Actually, an amendment a few years ago to the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act) allows manufacturers to disclose the terms of their warranties online as long as they also have a non-Internet means to request a copy such as a phone number or mailing address. (See our 2015 story.)

How anti-consumer, however, of any manufacturer to fail to spend the extra penny it would cost to put a copy right in the box with their product.

We asked the PR folks at Samsung if it was simply an error in this case that the TV that MrConsumer bought did not have the warranty included, or if it was company policy to no longer include it.

In part, a spokesperson replied, attaching a copy of the warranty:

“Samsung provides product warranty information on our website, www.samsung.com. We apologize you were unable to find the warranty for your TV on our website. This was caused by an error, and we are addressing it.” — Samsung spokesperson

Well, that didn’t answer the question of whether it is Samsung’s policy to no longer include a copy of the warranty in the box (and if so, why)? We wrote back two more times asking again, but received no response.

What kind of company refuses to directly answer such a simple question?

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August 21, 2017

Pret a Manger Accused of Deceptive Sandwich Packaging

Filed under: Downsizing,Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:07 am

MrConsumer had occasion to eat at what he considers an expensive regional European sandwich shop last March called Pret a Manger. He discovered something sneaky about how they packaged their sandwich wraps.

Pret Bang Bang Chicken

Upon opening the package, one gets an unexpected surprise.


Pret revealed

What looked like a long wrap sandwich, potentially worth the $7.49 price, turns out to be two small halves that come nowhere close to filling the package. The “Lovingly Made” cardboard surrounding the middle of the sandwich hides the dirty little secret of the empty space between the two halves. I thought to myself — great — I have a good Mouse Print* story.

As we have discussed in the past, deceptive packaging can be illegal, particularly when there is nonfunctional empty space in the package. That’s called slack fill, and it tends to give consumers a misimpression about the actual contents of the package. It makes the consumer think there is more product inside than there really is.

Fast forward to this summer when a New York consumer purchased a different wrap at Pret and got snookered too. He thought to himself — great — and he filed a class action lawsuit a few weeks ago against the company claiming millions of dollars of losses suffered by purchasers of these kinds of wraps. His lawsuit claims that depending on the sandwich there can be up to two-and-a-half inches of empty space between the two halves. (See story in Gothamist.)

So we asked Pret about their reaction to the lawsuit and why they package their wraps in this deceptive manner. They did not respond.

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