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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:

*MOUSE PRINT:

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.




• • •

August 13, 2017

Samsung’s TV Warranty Suggests Limiting Your Viewing of Certain Stations/Programs or Else!

Filed under: Business,Electronics,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 1:28 pm

While reading the warranty for a recently purchased Samsung HDTV, MrConsumer did a double-take reviewing one particular section.

But first, you have to understand a little about the screen dimensions of high definition televisions vs. the old-fashioned cathode ray tube ones. Old TV screens were more boxy — almost close to a square. They were 4:3 perspective. That is, left to right, the screen was only slightly wider than it was high. High definition television screens are usually 16:9 — much wider than high — more like a movie screen.

If you watch a standard definition TV channel, or an old television show that was not shot in high definition, you usually see black bars left and right of the picture:

black bars

Those programs are in 4:3 format and when viewed on a 16:9 screen, there is space left over on the left and right — thus the black bars. In some cases, if a program was only produced in HD, but you are viewing it on a standard definition channel, you will see black bars on all four sides of the picture.

Now back to the Samsung warranty. In its own separate section of the warranty, Samsung warns purchasers not to spend more than 5% of their TV-watching time viewing standard definition programs or channels! What? A TV manufacturer is telling users what they can and cannot watch on their own TV?

*MOUSE PRINT:

Samsung 5% warranty warning

The warranty actually says that you shouldn’t watch standard definition programs and channels (unless you stretch and distort them to fill the screen) for more than 5% of the time each week. That means if you watch 20 hours of TV a week, you can’t watch more than one or two episodes of your favorite old shows a week without potentially voiding part of your warranty.

The problem, they say, is “burn-in” — where something that is constantly on the screen and not moving causes the image to be seared into the display permanently. Think of the old pong video game where you had a white box on the screen for hours at a time. That could get burned in to the old cathode ray screens. The same problem exists for LCD and LED TVs apparently, but to a much lesser extent.

We asked Samsung why it manufacturers televisions that cannot support SD programs and SD channels in their original 4:3 format without potentially damaging the TV and voiding a part of the warranty? Here is their (non-) answer:

“Samsung is committed to the highest quality and most immersive TV viewing experience for all consumers. We provide customers with guidance to ensure the best performance of their devices. We encourage consumers to enjoy their preferred content on their TV while understanding the suggested ways to get the most out of their product.” –Samsung spokesperson

The spokesperson did note that the company offers a lifetime warranty against burn-in, but only on last year’s high-end SUHD line, and this year’s premium QLED line.

We also wondered if other manufacturers were cautioning viewers to limit watching standard definition TV. Sure enough, on LG’s website, they have a similar warning:

LG burn in

So kiss goodbye your old episodes of “I Love Lucy” and “All in the Family” as well as watching the entire array of standard definition channels, like 2, 4, 5 and 7 for any significant length of time.




• • •

July 24, 2017

Free Wi-Fi Users Ignore Terms and Conditions and Get Pranked

Filed under: Business,Computers,Humor,Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:36 am

An Internet company in Manchester, England called Purple decided recently to prove that consumers access free wi-fi services carelessly by not spending the time to click and read the terms and conditions of its use.

Purple terms

The company pranked users for a period of two weeks by tucking a “Community Service Clause” into their public wi-fi terms.

*MOUSE PRINT:

The user may be be required, at Purple’s discretion, to carry out 1,000 hours of community service. This may include the following:

• Cleansing local parks of animal waste
• Providing hugs to stray cats and dogs
• Manually relieving sewer blockages
• Cleaning portable lavatories at local festivals and events
• Painting snail shells to brighten up their existence
• Scraping chewing gum off the streets

So how many consumers using their free wi-fi services clicked the “accept” button despite being potentially being required shovel poop out of blocked pipes? A staggering 22,000 people! And how many people caught the catch? Exactly one!




• • •

February 27, 2017

Staples Charges for Staples!

Filed under: Business,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:19 am

MrConsumer is not fortunate enough to have a copy machine, so whenever he needs copies, he goes to his local Staples store. They have self-service machines where copies are now 12 cents each. Whatever happened to three-cent copies?

As most users of copy machines know, you have to select the number of copies, whether you want the machine to collate multi-page documents, staple them, etc. Choosing all those options, MrConsumer was surprised to learn that a new charge was placed on his bill.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Staples receipt

For my six-page document that I made three copies of, I was charged six cents for three staples — two cents apiece. Traditionally there was never an extra charge if you wanted your copies stapled at these machines. And yes, there was a manual stapler nearby that I could have used instead. And yes, the two-cent charge was disclosed on the copy machine payment screen for the job.

But the cost of a staple is so minimal that it baffles MrConsumer why any company would charge extra for one — and comparatively, a lot extra. At retail, Staples sells boxes of 25,000 staples for $6.79 — or 0.0002716 each. Put another way, Staples is charging customers at least 74 times its cost per staple.

We asked the company why it was doing this, and whether they thought this was a bit excessive. A Staples media representative responded:

Staples has recently rolled out new and improved self-service copy machines that are focused on ease of use and convenience, and provide a range of services that were not easily available before – scanning, printing from email and the cloud, stapling and faxing. This allows the customer to pick and choose how they want to print something, best fitted to their needs, with add on services such as stapling for a nominal fee, similar to other retailers.

Alternatively, customers can collate and staple their documents themselves free of charge. There are always staplers available and free to use on the counters near the copy & print area.

Here’s my two-cents-worth: I’m sorry, sometimes companies go too far in their penny-pinching practices.




• • •

November 14, 2016

Is It a Story or Is It an Ad in the LA Times?

Filed under: Business — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:42 am

Every week, MrConsumer searches through thousands of consumer stories trying to find the most interesting and useful ones to present to Consumer World readers.

In a Google news search last week, this story about store brands came up and I thought it might be a candidate as a “Consumer Quickie.”

Google story

Clicking through, here is the story that came up.

LA Times "story"

Use scrollbar above on right to view.

The L.A. Times story was actually kind of boring and was not put in Consumer World. But, upon closer inspection, another reason for rejecting it became apparent (yellow highlighting below added).

*MOUSE PRINT:

LA Times disclosures


This is not a real story but rather an advertisement made to look like a news story. It is called native advertising. Under the recently adopted Native Advertising Guidelines of the FTC, this content had to be clearly labeled as a paid advertisement or sponsor paid content or similar wording. Indeed, it is so marked but is it really conspicuous enough? The “story” is so designed to look exactly like an LA Times story that one has to wonder whether two small disclosures can overcome the overall impression created by the webpage.

And why is Google indexing advertising and listing it as a news story?

We raised this exact issue two years ago with the LA Times (see original story), which at the time said:

the advertisement in question is clearly labeled as such and the only path for readers to find that content was intended to be via an latimes.com panel that is also clearly labeled as advertising. However, your inquiry brought our attention to the fact that although this ad and others of the same ilk is not included in our News SiteMap and the page has “noindex nofollow” directives, there appears to be a technical glitch with Google News. We are working with Google to find out why the content is indexed incorrectly and have the issue fixed as soon as possible. In the meantime, we have removed the advertisement from our site to eradicate potential for further confusion. V.P. Communications, Los Angeles Times

We did not recontact the LA Times, but clearly, two years later the problem still exists.




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