Sunday, September 07, 2014

Caveat emptor: Comptek/Universal Media Syndicate, Aereo and morally challeged newspapers

We've all seen them, the full-page ads for Amish heaters (where it doesn't exactly say but where, apparently, primarily only the frames are made by the Amish), "rare" coins and bills, etc. While the debate about "native advertising" in digital rages in various forums (punctuated by John Oliver's hilarious takedown of it), the old-fashioned "advertorial" has become more and more a staple (from my observations) for cash-strapped newspapers.

But even newspapers have some moral, if not legal, obligation, it seems to me to at least give these things a vetting for being misleading -- and, frankly, from a business sense, too, since this kind of stuff doesn't do much to help your already steadily eroding credibility.

This ad was in The State newspaper today (The State is happy hunting ground for all these ads) on page A13. It's not masquerading -- it is clearly labeled as "Special Advertising Feature":


But what the ad is trying to do is trade off what may be for many people some dim recollection of this thing called the Aereo case that got headlines a few months ago when the Supreme Court ruled against the company. The ad artfully misstates what Aereo really was, however:
  • Yes, it did use "mini" antennas.
  • But they were in a bank of antennas in a huge warehouse in Brooklyn, for instance.
  • And they were not so much designed to plug into your TV as to enable you to watch your over-the-air free TV stations on your computer anywhere you wanted to.
  • And, finally, consumers have been able to get "free TV" as long as TV has been on the air
There's no evidence I see that this "slick little $88 device" that "pulls in crystal-clear digital TV channels for free with no monthly bills" does any more than a $15 or $25 antenna from Wal-Mart (or other retailers) that you can plug right into the back of your digitally enabled flat screen. And if you happen to have an old analog TV, you can add a digital converter box for about $35, bringing the total cost to maybe $60 instead of almost $100 with shipping and handling. Heck, one of those boxes will even record shows if you plug in a large-enough digital drive.

The ad promoting the "Clear-Cast" and using as a source "Comptek, 8000 Freedom Ave., Canton, Ohio, 44720," is artfully worded to avoid legal issues, things like "consumers who have a slick little micro antenna device will receive all of the major network Hollywood movies broadcast over the air for free." Yep, and you can receive those same movies with one of those cheaper antennas or, if you have an enabled flat screen, artfully shaped aluminum foil shoved into the antenna input, it would seem. Always have been able to. (Any implication that wording might make in the minds of the slightly informed and hugely gullible that they might get things like HBO or even TNT is, of course, an unintended consequence, I'm sure.)

No surprise here. Universal Media Syndicate, the operation behind these questionable ads, has been the subject of numerous complaints.

The only "slick little device" in this ad is the wording.

But at what point does a paper like The State have to make some moral decisions and say enough is enough? You no longer can separate the newsroom from the business, as if you ever really could. And that makes it even more important that news organizations -- newsroom, ad, business and corporate -- examine their morals and ethics when it comes to things like this.

(And I haven't exactly seen press associations rushing to rethink this, either.)

Oh, indeed, the almighty dollar is tempting -- and sorely needed -- at times like this. But if news organizations don't do it with an enlightened sense of what they are about, they will ultimately be almighty dead. Because, you see, even the dullest consumers have flashes of brilliance, and when they do these days, all they have to do is hit a button ...

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7 Comments:

At 9/24/14, 10:45 AM, Anonymous RonB511@gmail.com said...

I suppose your lack of responses may be from those that do not want this dream destroyed. I, for one, for got to place this order (thank goodness) but thought I would research this "too good to be true" ad, first. Thank you for saving my gullibility from my pocketbook.
Glad I live in Florida, because I would also have bought an Amish Heater.
Thanks,
Ron B

 
At 10/1/14, 8:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you.
I, too, was almost persuaded.
Now to check out those Amish heaters!

 
At 10/22/14, 9:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for telling us the truth about these wonderful sounding scams. I like your writing style, too.

 
At 12/5/14, 3:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you! My 76 year old father wanted to get one and I read your response!!

 
At 12/15/14, 5:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This ridiculous ad appeared in our newspaper today.I paid 25.00 for a whole house antenna that rotates and gets fringe TV. About 40 channels in my area. There is a line in the ad that changes the description from slick to "sleek". Thought that was interesting. These people think they are slick and make me sick - 2.00 device for 88.00. What a scam.

 
At 12/29/14, 3:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another 78 year old father that was considering this product thanks you for your well written article revealing the truth about the 'sleek little micro antenna'
Would it be illegal to comment where they should really install thier antenna? Keep up the good work.

 
At 4/23/15, 10:48 AM, Blogger Manuel Linares said...

In this day and age-operators like to take advantage of consumer's gullibility by slick and fancy newspaper ads in getting its clients. Just a simple google inquiry will set one straight and always remember the old adage, if it's too good to true-yep, believe it!!!!

 

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