Truth in Advertizing
Lars Poulsen - 2000-05-27
I am sitting here, going through my - mostly junk - mail on a Saturday
afternoon, getting ready to balance my checkbook and pay some bills,
and I am getting all riled up by all the lies I have to read.
Can anyone explain to me, why a businessperson thinks that I want to
do business with someone who lies to me? Why the management of a
non-profit foundation thinks that I want to give money to someone
who is not trustworthy? Or have we just gotten so used to these lies
that neither the ones telling the lies nor most of the ones being
lied to even notice it any longer?
I want the lies to stop now, and I am going to ask my legislators
what can be done about it. Here are some examples of the lies I am referring
- California State Parks Foundation president Susan Smart sends me
a form letter stating that "we want to send you a free Hiker's Guide
as your first benefit of joining our ... organization".
I have to read three pages further before a footnote admits that
to get the "free" book, I have to pay sixty dollars in cash.
(Paying $40 for the regular membership is not enough.)
- A company called GTE Communications Corporation, which uses the same
trade mark as GTE of California, our local telephone company,
is sending me what looks like a check for fifty dollars,
except that a line at the bottom says "This is not a valid check".
On the back of the fake check, there is a lot of small print
beginning "The California Public Utilities Commission has requested
that we provide the following information." Because I work in
telecommunications I think I can read between the lines and decode
the message: In order to prove to the Federal govenrment that
GTE of California has competition in the local telephone market,
they have created a company using the same logo which will be their
competition. If I accept this offer and let them pay me a $50 kickback,
my telephone service will be switched to this other company.
But nowhere in the letter does it mention that "GTE Communications
Corporation" is not the same company as "GTE California".
The only hint is that the reply envelope is addressed to somewhere
in Illinois (whereas we all know that GTE California is headquartered in
- Another letter arrives in an envelope with no sender's address,
but marked in red letters: "POSTMASTER: Deliver only to addressee".
The address showing through the window is printed on what appears
to be a check. Opening the envelope indeed reveals a check ...
made out to the non-profit group that sent it to me, and imprinted
under the signature "Facsimile check - non-negotiable".
Can we all agree that these are examples of less-than-truthful
solicitations? Can we stop them?
I want to get back to a world where "free offer" means it is available
at no cost. I want to see a world where the merchant who advertizes goods
for a specific price has to give me the goods if I give him that amount
of money. I want a requirement that when a price is advertized to a
consumer, it must include sales taxes, unavoidable shipping costs
and not be augmented by murky "handling fees".
Some will claim that requiring merchants to speak the truth is
an abridgement of the freedom of speech guaranteed by the first
amendment to the US constitution. I say that commercial speech
is different from religious and political speech, and that it is
not only reasonable but necessary to hold commercial speech
to an objective standard of truth, at least when it addresses
matter for which such a truth is readily discernible.
Patrick Combs tells
the story of
depositing a junk mail check for $95,035.35 into his bank account.
If enough people did this, the junk checks would come
to a halt!!
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