Saturday, April 05, 2008

Unfair advertising

A local car dealer had some ads on TV, saying you could by a car for $44 per month or even (most recently) no car payments for two years. The ads featured a lot of yelling, and even more fine print. I used my DVR to slow things down and read the fine print. Seems that after 3 months, the $44 per month went up and the two years with never a car payment wasn't really available. To me, the ads were confusing at best, deceptive at worst.

Now, at least 50 people have agreed with me. Unfortunately, they found out the hard way. They bought cars and then saw the car payment balloon from $44 to $478. When they tried to turn the car in (as promised by the loud spokesperson), the dealer suggested they refinance - no bank will refinance when you owe more than the car is worth.

So now, the SC Dept of Consumer Affairs is in the game, writing an official letter to the car dealer and giving them 10 days to resolve the problems. The car dealer says the problem is with the disclosures and that both he and his ad agency believe the ads and disclosures are proper. I don't think he's trying to spread the blame to his ad agency yet, but time will tell.

To me, there are several things wrong here. First, any consumer who believes you can buy a car for $44 or no payment, should not be allowed to buy a car. Probably not allowed to even drive. It's just not safe having an idiot like that on the roads.

This doesn't excuse the dealer. I could probably sue them because I had to watch those loud, obnoxius ads. My blood pressure went up each time they aired and I'm sure it shortened my life expectancy. The ads were misleading and the dealer should have to buy back each car that was sold in the last year. The purchase price should be every dime the consumer paid (including interest).

However, the buck shouldn't stop there. The ad agency that created these ads is also guilty. As a professional group, they should understand and avoid deception. (This doesn't remove guilt from the agency). I'd like to see a list of other companies for whom they developed ads and I'll avoid those companies too. If you're choosing an ad agency, you should choose a reputable one. Their penalty should be equal to whatever they were paid for these car dealer ads.

And finally, the TV stations that showed the ads should share in the blame. They should have known that these ads were just flat wrong and should never have aired them. They should give up the revenue they earned for the ads and be forced to run apologies. Maybe they should even be forced to run shows with no ads (Star Trek or Andy Griffith would be a good idea)

See the story here.

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