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December 9, 2019

Advertising Masquerades as Program Content on TV Talk Shows – Part 3

Filed under: Business,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:55 am

For the past two years, Consumer World has been investigating TV talk shows that present what looks like a typical informational segment, but in fact the program is quietly making money by airing it. In essence you are watching an infomercial — advertising masquerading as regular program content. (See our first two stories, one about the truth behind “deal” segments on morning TV, and the other about doctors as product experts on television.)

Another prong of our investigation focused on a segment from the CBS daytime show, The Talk. In this March 2018 segment, a dermatologist conducts a beauty care quiz with the co-hosts and the audience.



After several general questions, the dermatologist casually mentions a particular product line, No7, and discusses the benefits of it. The program host then introduces a consumer in the audience who tells of her positive experience with the product. Only in the credits at the end of the program is there a momentary disclosure that No7 sponsored part of the show.

*MOUSE PRINT:

No7 sponsorship

So this segment which appeared to be a regular part of the program was really an infomercial of sorts. Marketers call it “product integration.”

There are several legal issues here. Was the doctor paid by the company to tout its products and was that consumer in the audience a plant?

To answer the first question, we did a little digging. On The Talk‘s website, CBS offered this description of that beauty segment:

*MOUSE PRINT:

"we teamed up"

And on the doctor’s own social media account, we found her thanking the manufacturer for selecting her to be their dermatologist spokesperson for No7:

*MOUSE PRINT:

Doctor thanks No7

As for the audience member who touted her results using the product, we can find no independent information about her. However, what are the odds that sitting right there in the front row was an average consumer who just happened to try the product and liked it? In all likelihood, both the doctor and audience member were paid by No7 for the appearance. And that triggers the FTC’s guidelines governing testimonials and endorsements, which require clear disclosure if those people were paid for their comments. No such disclosure was made on the program.

Equally if not more important is the lack of disclosure to the viewing audience at the time the segment was airing that it was actually sponsored content — in essence an advertisement — rather than a regular program segment. They disclosed the sponsorship only in the credits at the end of the program. Under the FCC’s “payola” rules, if a program’s producers receive payment to feature a product, that fact must be disclosed to viewers during the program.

Also, whenever someone creates content that looks like the other material that surrounds it, but is really advertising, this is called native advertising. To keep viewers of TV shows and readers of news websites properly informed about the commercial nature of these types of offerings, the FTC’s native advertising guidelines require clear, up-front disclosure. And that is often missing or obscured.

After seeing this segment on The Talk, Consumer World contacted the West coast head of broadcast standards at CBS to remind the company of the various disclosure requirements, and ask what the network was going to do to correct the problem. Not long thereafter, the segment was quietly removed from the CBS website. And eventually, we got a reply:

“I have been advised that we have reviewed our practices and procedures and have reiterated to those involved the importance of transparency, and adhering to the applicable guidelines. You may have seen some changes on our product integrations on THE TALK, as well as some of our other programs.”

This segment on The Talk is but one example of the secret commercialization of content on TV talk and information programs. Over the years, we’ve seen other sponsored segments with often poor disclosures on The Doctors, Rachel Ray, Steve Harvey, and other shows. We hope that the FTC will direct some of its enforcement efforts to the television networks that engage in these sneaky practices.

Next week we check out a segment on the Dr. Phil show that just aired a few weeks ago.




• • •

September 16, 2019

Dog Walking Company Sued Over Fine Print

Filed under: Business,Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:52 am

This summer, three New Yorkers sued a California dog walking service, Wag!, for various alleged misleading representations.

Wag! maintains a website and app to allow dog owners to schedule local dog walkers and dog sitters on demand. Thnk of it as an Uber service for pets. The company says walkers go through an extensive vetting process and that each walk is insured and bonded, and they guarantee home insurance of $1,000,000 for “extra peace of mind.” Their website emphasizes “trust and safety” — “we treat your dog just like we’d want ours to be treated.”

Wag insurance
Composite Illustration

The lawsuit, however, points out that contrary to the great care promised, the company’s terms and conditions tries to absolve itself of most responsibility.

*MOUSE PRINT:

The Services includes a marketplace technology platform that connects Pet Care Providers with Pet Owners. We do not provide any pet care services and [we] make no representations or warranties about the quality of dog walking, boarding, sitting, … Wag! does not employ, recommend or endorse Pet Owners or Pet Care Providers, and we are not responsible or liable for the performance or conduct of Pet Owners or Pet Care Providers, whether online or offline. Wag! provides Pet Care Providers with access to third-party vendors that perform background checks and verifications. Wag! itself does not conduct background checks and does not independently verify information in the background checks. Wag! is not responsible or liable in any manner for the background checks. [Emphasis added]

These provisions and others were added recently to the company’s terms and condition statement after the lawsuit was filed.

Despite promises of a million dollars in insurance being provided, in Wag’s prior terms and conditions the company attempted to cap its liability at a mere $500:

*MOUSE PRINT:

IN NO EVENT SHALL WAG!’S TOTAL LIABILITY TO YOU IN CONNECTION WITH THE SERVICES FOR ALL DAMAGES, LOSSES AND CAUSES OF ACTION EXCEED FIVE HUNDRED U.S. DOLLARS (US $500).

A spokeperson for Wag! released the following statement:

“While we don’t comment on pending litigation, ensuring the safety and security of all those who use the Wag! platform is of utmost importance to us. Every day, thousands of pets are cared for using the Wag! platform. Accidents and incidents are rare, but we know the impact even one can have on the family involved. We are committed to the safety and security of our platform…”

Various media outlets around the country, but particularly in the New York area, have reported unfortunate incidents that have befallen dogs under Wag’s care, including some deaths.




• • •

August 12, 2019

Peek at the Fine Print in CBS’ Big Brother Contract With Houseguests

Filed under: Business,Humor — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:32 am

Big BrotherFor the past 21 years, CBS has aired the reality show Big Brother during the summer months. In the program, 16 contestants called “houseguests” are secluded from the outside world in a TV-set house for about 100 days with all their activities recorded 24/7. The last houseguest remaining after a series of evictions wins the game.

As you might imagine, with millions of dollars of advertising revenue on the line for CBS and high production costs, they have to ensure that all the contestants follow a strict set of rules and waive most of their rights. To that end, when those who apply to be on the program enter the finalist stage of casting, they are required to sign a 39-page, one-sided agreement designed to protect the network and the producers and to warn the would-be participant what they have in store.

Here are some of the more unusual provisions of the “applicant agreement“:

*MOUSE PRINT:

Contestants first have to agree to be recorded 24 hours a day, with or without clothing.



filmed naked


 
*MOUSE PRINT:

The producers control all the utilities in the Big Brother house, including water.



we control water


 
*MOUSE PRINT:

Contestants have to understand that they could be publicly humiliated and scorned.



humiliation is possible


 
*MOUSE PRINT:

And besides waiving their rights to sue CBS and the producers, and releasing the show from all liability of any kind, contestants have to keep their mouth shut about what happens in the program. This is how CBS ensures that compliance:



Millions in damages


And since “showmances” inevitably flourish during their three months in seclusion, all houseguests have to submit to testing for STDs.

So, why would anyone subject themselves to all this? Perhaps it is the lure of the $500,000 prize for the winner.




• • •

July 2, 2018

Where’s the Pork? (Hint: Not in Nathan’s Hot Dogs!)

Filed under: Business,Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:43 am

A big national class action antitrust lawsuit was filed last week alleging that major food companies conspired to overcharge consumers for bacon, ham, hot dogs and other pork products.

In a press release issued by one of the law firms, they advise consumers who purchased any of these products that they might be entitled to some money back:

press release excerpt

As a native New Yorker who grew up eating Nathan’s hot dogs at the original Nathan’s stand in Coney Island, MrConsumer knows their frankfurters are all beef and contain no pork.

100% beef

HUGE MOUSE PRINT:

Nathan's package

While all Nathan’s frankfurters are all beef, they do have one variety of fries called “Bacon and Cheddar Crunchy Crinkle Fries.” That product, however, according to the ingredients statement on the Nathan’s website, seemingly doesn’t actually contain any bacon, just artificial or natural flavoring!

MOUSE PRINT:

bacon and cheddar ingredients

So it appears, based on the items listed on their website, that no Nathan’s Famous products contain pork and thus no Nathan’s products that a consumer may have purchased qualify for a refund or are properly included in the list of affected brands. So why was “Nathan’s Famous” listed as one of the offending brands but not a defendant in the case?

The day after the lawsuit was filed, MrConsumer wrote to the two law firms that filed the class action to find out and to advise them that it appeared that Nathan’s Famous had been wrongly accused of anti-competitive conduct. He also alerted the CEO of Nathan’s Famous that his company and products were apparently erroneously called out in the law firm’s press release.

Neither law firm nor Nathan’s responded to our request for comments and an explanation.

So how did Nathan’s Famous get wrapped up in this lawsuit? This is what appears to have happened. Nathan’s Famous is distributed by the John Morrell Company, which is owned by Smithfield Foods. And Smithfield Foods is a defendant in the lawsuit because they sell other brands and products that do contain pork. Somehow the law firms apparently did not understand that Nathan’s Famous is an independent company not owned by Smithfield and that Nathan’s only sells 100% beef franks.

MOUSE PRINT:

Nathan's distributor

How could they have known these key facts about Nathan’s? Well, they just could have picked up a package, read the fine print, read the big print, and checked the Nathan’s website!

The law firm also listed Steak-eze as an affected brand. According to the Steak-eze website, and certainly implied in their brand name, they only sell beef products also.




• • •

December 18, 2017

Some Diners Don’t Appreciate “Kitchen Appreciation”

Filed under: Business,Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:12 am

Friends of MrConsumer have been trained to check the fine print of their transactions. A bit of scrutiny of a recent restaurant bill revealed a surprising add-on to the check:

*MOUSE PRINT:

Kitchen appreication

An extra charge of $1.29 called “kitchen appreciation” was added to the tab. When my friend asked the server what that was, he got kind of a muddled explanation, and was told to check the menu.

On the Sweet Cheeks menu (which is owned by first season Top Chef finalist Tiffany Faison) there is a disclosure that reads in part:

WE ARE IMPLEMENTING A 3% KITCHEN APPRECIATION FEE TO THE GUEST CHECK THAT WILL DIRECTLY BENEFIT OUR BACK OF THE HOUSE (BOH) TEAM.

WE STRUGGLE WITH THE DISPARITIES BETWEEN FRONT OF THE HOUSE (FOH) AND BOH WAGES.

THE WAGE GAP BETWEEN THE FOH AND BOH HAS BECOME STAGGERING. FOH EMPLOYEES EARN NEARLY THREE TIMES MORE THAN THEIR BOH COUNTERPARTS.

THE KITCHEN APPRECIATION FEE ALLOWS ALL BOH EMPLOYEES TO DIRECTLY BENEFIT FROM THE TOP LINE SUCCESS OF THE RESTAURANT.

Put simply, the customer is being told that they must subsidize the comparatively low wages of the kitchen staff by being surcharged 3-percent on the total bill. (MrConsumer might point out that the restaurant then appears to charge meals tax on top of this kitchen tip which is probably not authorized under state law.)

Sweet Cheeks didn’t come up with this idea on their own. Famous New York restaurateur Danny Meyer two years ago started the ball rolling by no longer allowing tipping so he could instead charge more for meals and then more equitably distribute the extra income between servers and kitchen staff. Other restaurants began adding hospitality fees as a way to better pay and retain kitchen staff.

So, what do you think about adding a 3-percent “kitchen appreciation” fee automatically to restaurant bills? Add your comments below.




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