Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Crappy Commercial Claims

Yesterday, I wrote a post about the kind of crappy claims that cosmetic companies make, with a view to presenting an option for them to actually improve their scientific credibility.

That proposal was predicated on the industry having motivation to have real credibility. I don't think they do, as the numbers don't work. Faux credibility, like that gained by showing complex computer graphics, is much cheaper. Skirting the boundary of deception in order to make large profits is a foregone conclusion, but I don't want to just single out that industry on those grounds.

I want to single out some other industries as well, just to point out their bad behaviour:

  • Batteries
    Other than no-name brands, or rechargeables, standard-sized batteries never say how much energy is actually in the batteries. And when they do, they only give the voltage and a rating in mAh (milliamp hours). What most people don't realise is that to get the energy content, you have to multiply these together to get the total amount of energy, so when rechargeables have a voltage of 1.2v and non-rechargeables have a voltage of 1.5v, the number given in units of mAh for rechargeables can seem inflated.

    Eveready's worst standard battery
    is called Super Heavy Duty. They don't seem to have a regular or even a normal heavy duty. The name implies that it's actually suited for "heavy duty" use, yet it has less energy than any other battery, and it's not suited for high-drain devices. Perhaps it is a comparison to one of Galvani's early inventions?

    Then we move on to Eveready Gold and Energizer Max, which both last "up to 3x longer" than Eveready Super Heavy Duty (which is in fine print). Their websites are relatively forthcoming, but we've all seen the ads of the Energizer bunny not giving up until after all the competition is dead. This is only because Energizer compares their best battery to their competition's worst battery.

  • Toothpaste
    Who hasn't seen ads for toothpaste that make claims like "reduces plaque by up to 98%"? When you read their fine print, or actually look at the report on which that "science" is based, the number is only valid when compared to brushing with no toothpaste or a banana or something, which means their great claims don't actually mean they are as good as their competitors.

  •  Detergents
    The cleaning power of oxygen? Well, bleach uses that. Sure, it might be true, but it doesn't make it different to anything else out there. The cleaning power of lemons or oranges? It's just, citric acid and it's not a particularly active ingredient.

    Any product that claims to remove stains that have set, is generally just a load of crap on many levels, but they make sure that they are just on the right side of making illegal claims.

    If it's a particularly strong carpet stain remover, for example, it might remove the stain, but it will also remove the colour of the carpet. Both the proper colouring and the stain have dyed the carpet, so why would a stain remover be able to tell them apart? Or more likely, it will slightly lighten the area, but not actually work. We've all bought a cleaning product and been annoyed that it didn't work as we thought it was advertised. But that's because we don't all read the fine print. 
The reason why "misleading and deceptive conduct" uses both terms is because deceptive implies dishonesty, so by also saying misleading, it shows that the conduct that misleads the consumer doesn't have to have been made dishonestly or intentionally. Yet all these industries seem to get away with making claims that rely on people not seeing a condition flicker up during an ad, follow a link and look up a report in order to find out all the qualifications that exist.

What are the industries that annoy you the most with their effectively illegal conduct?

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