Saturday, December 12, 2009

Cash4Gold: How much is more?

American television is filled with commercials for companies that will turn your old gold jewelry into cash. You just send it in, and they send you a check, with no obligation to accept the deal.  It sounds straightforward enough, but the ads are a little misleading.  At the moment, Cash4Gold says it's offering a 25 percent bonus over its usual rates, presumably to entice consumers to try and grab that extra cash.  Yet in general, such claims are too vague to mean anything; you have to ask, "25 percent more than what?"  Cash4Gold never says what its regular rates are, nor do it say how often its regular rates change.  This is an important issue, since the price of gold has risen by 37 percent in the last year.  If consumers are getting 25 percent more than they did this time last year, Cash4Gold is pocketing the other 12 percent... but there's no way to know from the ads.

AT&T versus Verizon: Apples and oranges?

Verizon has been slamming AT&T in its television commercials with claims that AT&T's third-generation wireless network offers far less coverage than Verizon's.  The Verizon coverage map for the United States certainly looks a lot more comprehensive than AT&T's.  But now, AT&T is responding with ads showing another, much more flattering map of its coverage (and the actor Luke Wilson running down a long list of the cities that the map includes).  The AT&T commercials, however, do not specify that the coverage is on a third-generation network; it looks as though AT&T's claims may rest on its garden-variety mobile phone network.  Is AT&T really countering Verizon's ads in such a disingenuous way?  Wait for the next round to find out.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Local 1549: A little context would help

On the New York City subway, union Local 1549 has been running an ad complaining that the city is wastefully transferring police officers to desk jobs instead of putting them on the street. The ad states that a cop earns about $74,000, much more than the $37,000 that would be paid to a clerical worker to do the same job.

The union, which represents New York City clerical and administrative workers, is appealing to subway riders' sense of logic: wouldn't it be cheaper (and safer) to leave the cops on the street, and have civilians doing the desk jobs? Maybe not. If the city is trying to save money, it might be under pressure to cut payrolls. It doesn't want to let any cops go - that's politically controversial - so it hires fewer civilians and offers the desk jobs to cops. For the cops, a desk job is still probably better than no job, and the city does save money. But the clerical workers end up out in the cold... hence the ad.  Now, the union might be right when it suggests that the city is less safe with fewer cops on the street. Even if that's true, however, hiring more clerical workers might not be the most cost-effective solution.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Honda: Be careful with those superlatives

In Honda's television commercial for its Pilot sport-utility vehicle, the company calls itself "The Greenest Automaker in America."  Obviously, the word "greenest" is open to many interpretations.  Some years ago, you might have thought that it meant Honda manufactured the most cars that were painted green.  But these days, the word conveys a different meaning: ecological, friendly to the environment, using less energy or built for alternative fuels.

Now, I couldn't read the fine print on my television - it was too small, and, even if the commercial was in high definition, I don't have it yet.  Yet the claim of "greenest" doesn't pass the fresh-cut grass smell test.  Is Honda aware, for example, of an American automaker called Tesla Motors?  All its cars are completely electric and can outperform most models in the Honda line-up.  They cost more, but they charge up quickly and have a range of over 200 miles.  Meanwhile, even the most efficient Pilot (the two-wheel-drive model) gets an average of only 19 miles per gallon.  That's not bad for a 3.5-liter behemoth, but, given the selection of hybrid SUVs on the market, it's not exactly green, either.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Chrysler: Isn't word choice wonderful?

A television commercial for Chrysler's 2010 Town and Country minivan currently advertises "unsurpassed fuel economy in its class."  Well, it's easy enough to go to and see just how efficient the Town and Country really is.  Turns out its most efficient engine gets 17 miles per gallon in the city (town?) and 25 on the highway (country?), for an average of 20.  But guess what: the Honda Odyssey and the Volkswagen Routan have exactly the same fuel economy ratings.  That's why the Chrysler is "unsurpassed" and not "uniquely the best."  Watch out for Honda and Volkswagen commercials advertising the same thing....

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Expo Markers: Stingy or selfless?

Expo Markers has a new television ad starring actor Kyle Chandler.  He begins by telling viewers that teachers spend as much as $500 annually on classroom supplies that their schools don't provide.  He also says that Expo markers are near the top of their shopping list, a vague claim that would be tough to prove or disprove.  He then encourages viewers to nominate inspiring teachers for a competition sponsored by the brand, adding that ten winning teachers will receive help with their expenses.

Expo likely wants viewers to think of their brand as altruistic and socially conscious, generating goodwill for the brand and more sales.  But how much are they really doing for teachers?  It sounds like they are willing to pay out a maximum of $5,000 (that's $500 each for ten teachers) to help our inspiring educators.  That sum almost certainly pales in comparison to the cost of hiring Mr. Chandler, and it seems even tinier relative to the cost of purchasing time on network television.  If anything, Expo seems pretty stingy - the opposite of the image they're probably hoping to create among consumers.

Allstate: Your statistics are not in good hands

Allstate is running a television ad in which its spokesman, the actor Dennis Haysbert, states that drivers who switched from Geico to Allstate for their car insurance saved an average of $473 a year.

What Haysbert doesn't say is that you probably wouldn't switch from one insurance company to another if you weren't going to save some money.  In fact, even if you were going to save a small amount, say $50, then you might not bother to switch.  So it's not surprising that the customers who switched saved a good deal of money.  It would be more interesting to know how big the average savings would be if all Geico customers switched to Allstate.  In fact, we have no idea how many Geico customers switched.  For all we know, the vast majority of them were happy with the insurance they had.  Some argument for switching, eh?