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Lowe’s Pulls Misleading TV Ad After We Cry Foul

Recently, Lowe’s began advertising what appeared to be a great sale on major appliances — 20% off. Here is the advertisement that ran during the 60 Minutes broadcast last week:

Click play button.

Seems pretty straightforward and unambiguous, right?

Oh, but then there’s some hard to read fine print (and our video quality doesn’t help matters). So, here is a close-up:


Lowe's commercial

And if you still can’t read that, here is what it says:

“Valid 8/10 – 8/23. Whirlpool, Maytag, KitchenAid, Amana, GE, LG, Samsung, Frigidaire, Electrolux and Bosch brands limited to a maximum 10% discount, unless otherwise shown. See store for more details and more exclusions. US only.”

Huh? First we’re seemingly told that the only restriction on getting 20% off appliances is that they have to sell for over $395. Then we learn that virtually all the most popular appliance brands are excluded from the 20% off sale and are only 10% off?

Incidentally, the online disclaimer lists additional brands that don’t qualify for any discount at all off the regular price:


Online exclusions

So what brands are the full 20% off? For common major appliances, the Lowe’s website for a Massachusetts store only lists these additional brands: Haier, Hotpoint, Premier, Sharp, and Tappan. All of them that displayed the regular Lowe’s price (not MSRP) showed only a 10% off discount. Interestingly, despite the ad’s disclaimer, some models of the excluded brands were indeed at least 20% off.

According to enforcement policy of the Federal Trade Commission it is actually considered an unfair or deceptive practice for the big print to giveth and the little print to taketh away:

Advertisements often contain fine-print footnotes or video superscripts that attempt to disclaim, limit, modify, or explain claims made elsewhere in the ad. Advertisers cannot use fine print to contradict other statements in an ad or to clear up misimpressions the ad would otherwise leave.

Last Monday morning, Consumer World contacted the Lowe’s headquarters about these issues and to also ask if they would pull or revise the advertisement. It was not until Wednesday afternoon that we got the news that the company saw the light and yanked the ad. They said “there was a misstep in the editing process” and would modify it by adding “up to 20% off” in the headline. We suggested that that still would not fully remedy the problem, so some additional suggestions were made.

By Friday, true to their word, Lowe’s added the words “up to” to the commercial but did not take any of the other suggestions offered:

Lowe's revised ad

Consumers watching TV have a right to be told the straight poop about any offer and not have to freeze the picture to read almost unreadable fine print. As noted in the press release we issued last week about this matter, we have filed complaints with the FTC, the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office.

We welcome your thoughts in the comments.

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12 thoughts on “Lowe’s Pulls Misleading TV Ad After We Cry Foul”

  1. The government does not police these issues. We need private groups like C.W. to be our advocates.

  2. I stopped reading ads that say “Up to…” long ago as they invariably have so many exclusions, or the number of items available is tightly limited, that they are worthless. I place them in the same category as “..at participating locations” where I am supposed to guess which locations are or are not participating.

    All this basic dishonesty by brick and mortar businesses has driven me to probably 80% online purchasing. Shopping with my mouse is cheaper in terms of my time, which I consider valuable; gas; and wear and tear of both myself and my vehicle. Even if the resulting cost is not at an up front savings, at least I know what the cost will be without driving, paying tools and gas, parking, and then having to check a dozen price tags that don’t seem t match the stated savings to be had, wonder what’s going on, and search for a seemingly non-existent sales person.

    I read that brick and mortar complain of overhead not covered by the customers going to online sources, but it is those very brick and mortar sources who drive me away with their antics.

  3. Advertisements that say ‘up to…’ are typically not worth the effort. ‘Up to 50% off’ can mean that 9 items are 1% off and 1 item is 50% off. It’s ridiculous.

    The fact that the FCC doesn’t often take action in these situations really bothers me. This Lowe’s ad is entirely deceptive.

  4. From the article:

    Consumers watching TV have a right to be told the straight poop about any offer and not have to freeze the picture to read almost unreadable fine print.

    My comment:
    When freezing a screen to try to read fine print, my DirecTV puts a banner on the screen to tell me where in the program I am when I paused the show, hiding any chance of reading the fine print. Even on a good HD screen, the contrast is too slight to even read what part you can see.

    The auto ads are even worse with ten lines of unreadable fine print that seems to list all the restrictions and costs for ‘any’ claim made during the commercial.

    I agree with the comments about ‘up to’ claims. You can bet that the item you want is at the the bottom of the ‘up to’ range, never near the top.

  5. As others have said, best to avoid any TV ad that uses the “up to” phrase. Or better yet, stop watching commercial TV altogether.

  6. Ah yes… This looks like a Bed Bath and Beyond stunt but only with appliances.

    All the major brands I see are listed which means that well over 50% of that part of the store is only going to have a maximum 10% off unless specially listed.

    Even if labeled right in the first place you do not have much of a deal anyway.

  7. TV is bad enough but radio can be worse. Some commercials include limitations that are read so quickly that it’s obvious *no one* could comprehend them. It seems they’re treated as a joke.

  8. Regarding the radio ads, don’t forget the fine print that’s being read at double speed is also being broadcast at half the volume, if that.

    Back to the subject at hand, the first ad clearly has issues, but the “up to” is ambiguous enough to avoid any real legal issues the 2nd time around. As several others have noted, you must beware when those words are used in a discount. I think a common sense rule would be to require a certain % of products/brands/etc. to be discounted at the “bold print” advertised rate. That would likely require Lowe’s to reword this ad as “10-20%” instead of “up to 20%”

  9. What’s worse than the disclaimers at the end of a radio ad?

    Radio ads where the disclaimers are at the beginning!

    The dreaded “front disclaimer” is a disservice to the listener in not one, but TWO ways — first, you get confused thinking the disclaimer is for the previous ad, and even if/when you realize it’s a front disclaimer, you’re still confused because you haven’t heard the claims that are being disclaimed yet!

    And really, the front disclaimer is a disservice in three ways — from my first reason above (confuses the listener), if some listeners assume the disclaimer was part of the previous ad, that might damage the reputation of the business being advertised in the spot immediately prior to the “front disclaimer” ad.

    To those saying the FCC should do more… some clarification about governmental alphabet soup. The FCC actually doesn’t do very much about enforcing the content aired by radio or TV stations. Aside from the “seven dirty words” made famous by George Carlin (which I’d realistically say is now down to only five) and some specific rules about (a) on-air contests and (b) airing live or recorded phone calls, the FCC doesn’t take much action about on-air content. Other agencies like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or even state-level agencies (ie. Attorney General) usually have more “teeth” in this subject.

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