The Long Run Blog

Critical Thinking on Money, Finance, and Economics

Flattery Scams

I remember back in the late 1980s on Detroit’s Channel 50 there being this reoccurring infomercial featuring spray-on hair. Basically if you were getting thin in back or on top and you had, I dunno, lacquer black hair, you could get this can of spray paint and then simply spray it on the more noticeable bits of flesh tone. It was a ridiculous product and, given the appearance of the test subjects this infomercial featured, this product was mostly marketed to long haul truckers.

The way this infomercial sold this spray-on hair formula was formulaic. They’d get a long haul trucker out of the audience, comb his hair a bit, determine the appropriate “spray shield” to use (basically a piece of cardboard with various sized holes cut into it), and then give his bald spot a couple blasts of spray-on hair. And here’s the part me and all my other 17-year-old friends loved. They’d bring out this busty woman in a short sequined dress. She would inspect the head of the long haul trucker for about 3 seconds and then moan on command “ohhh, it looks so natural”.

It was my first introduction to the notion that you can sell a product if you flatter the potential customer. Of course, as anyone who is married or lived with a girlfriend knows, there’s a fine line between flattery and obvious out and out lying (“No, hunny, that tight curly perm that has reduced you and your mother to tears actually looks great on you!”) .

Maybe the true IQ test is figuring out the nature of the scam?

One such “flattery scam” I notice from time to time are free IQ tests you see on the net. No, not those Scientology personality tests. These tests purport to give you an estimation of your IQ. And they’re free. Now a real IQ test is a pretty time consuming set of tests. However, these online tests can be done in 15 minutes. And would you believe anyone who knows Grant is buried in Grant’s Tomb comes out with a super high result? So what’s the angle? Well, at the end of the test, you’re asked if you want to take the longer paid test, which may or may not be a legit IQ test. But you’ve found out you have a 155 IQ on this mini test, wouldn’t you like to spend $60 to confirm you’re in the genius range? So the free tests tend to inflate your score, making you feel good, and making you want to acquire an actual official looking piece of paper you can wave in the face of your high school councilor who actually told your mother she should guide you into a career in small engine and coin machine repair.

It’s not the size that counts but the tag number

We all have our “fat pants”, a pair (or two) that fit nicely even after we’ve indulged over a holiday (our crazy Canadian thanksgiving is coming up next weekend). They’re not actually a size bigger or anything. They just fit in all the right places and fit in ways that simply can’t be quantified by science or seemingly ever reproduced reliably. As males, you know you’re a 33 waist pant, you can buy from the Gap, H&M, or Wal-Mart and fit. Relaxed vs normal vs slim fit muddy the waters a bit, I suppose. But I’m given to understand clothing lines marketed towards women have really thrown all standards out the door. A size 8 can be practically anything, depending on the whim of the designer. If you’re a woman are you more likely to buy a size 8 at Donna Karan or a size 12 at Big Top Bargains? Also there’s the notion that changing rooms at clothing stores have slightly convex mirrors that slim you down.

I think I have been fooled by the mirror scam but not in a clothing store. I swear the fast food chain Arby’s (in Canada at least) uses a concave mirror to make their puff dessert pastries look bigger. You walk into an Arby’s and above the warming shelf for all the tasty meat products is another warming shelf holding these flaky dessert pastries. It’s hard to see them so high up so a mirror at about a 45 degree angle is over them. You don’t actually get to see the pastry directly but the reflection. And boy do those suckers look big for the 89 cents. So naturally you order one and when you get it, it’s about 66% the size your eyes told you before ordering. Hrmph.

Hollywood really, really wants to know your opinions?

One bit of ego stroking deception I got fooled by was an invitation to be part of a focus group on some new fall TV shows. Ah yes, why wouldn’t major TV studios want to know my opinion? Maybe if they asked me from the get go they could have avoided disasters like Cop Rock, Manimal, and The Powers of Matthew Star. Right, so I found an invite and two tickets in the mail. We were to show up at a fancy hotel in Toronto around the dinner hour. Surely, there would be a hot buffet. Right, so the GF and I packed off with tickets in hand. What we experienced didn’t quite match what I imagined. There was no hot buffet for starters. Not even coffee. There were probably about 80 people there and we were herded into a small ball room. Packed around TVs. We were told by the presenters that we were going to see 3 pilot episodes and our opinions would be sought later via questionnaires. Oh and we’d be shown some TV commercials just to make the experience more authentic. Uh huh. Now I noticed something funny about these pilots, which we were told were targeted for the new fall season. The hair styles and dress were borderline out of date. Too much blow drying and crew necked sweaters. Nothing I could put my finger on, like everyone wearing acid washed jeans without irony. But then I saw the clincher. This was several years into the Clinton presidency. One of the pilots took place in an immigration office. Naturally all government offices have a portrait of the sitting president. This office had a portrait of George Bush (like the first one).

Anyway, when we got the surveys, the true nature of this screening revealed itself. Questions regarding the TV pilots were pretty shallow in nature. But then there were questions about the ads (what did you remember? how did it make you feel?) and those were very in depth. Ah. We were hoodwinked. This was some marketing firm just trying to test how audiences perceived the ads. My comments on the survey were not very nice as I didn’t much enjoy being fooled and I was hungry by that point and needed a damn coffee.

She’s hot but not

When I was in Korea there were a couple scams targeted at us foreigners (heretofore known as whiteys1). Once in a while you would be approached by a very attractive 20something Korean woman with quite excellent English. Ah, the very woman every whitey in Korea is looking for. She’d start off with some polite words and then out would come her little leather valise with her Jehovah’s Witness material. Damn. Now nothing really misleading here other than your own hubris momentarily letting you let your guard down. Another scam preying on the hubris and hormones was a match making site in Korea, a place where whiteys and Koreans could hook up for dates. There was a free trial membership option. And shortly after signing up, you started getting emails from utterly gorgeous Korean women. Hey, who doesn’t think we can punch above our own weight, especially if we’re exotic foreigners? Of course, no guy stops and thinks “can’t a drop-dead model gorgeous Korean woman land a doctor or some junior Samsung executive?” What would she be doing hitting on a guy who apparently can’t get a real job back in North America? Hrm! Of course when you sign up for a real membership, the Race Queen class women stop sending you messages (and certainly don’t respond to your message).

Led by the stomach, not so much the hubris

A friend once worked at a major international pizza chain. They had this promotion where you could get a pizza with 4 toppings for the price of 2. Sounds like a great deal? My friend noted the ad promotion didn’t tell you the whole story. The chain had custom measuring cups and these cups were used religiously to measure out the amount of a topping. If you ordered mushrooms, the pizza cook would use a specific measuring cup, scoop up a level of mushrooms, and put that on your pizza. If you ordered extra cheese, he’d scoop up cheese with the measuring cup and then put that on your pizza. Right, so what the promotion wasn’t telling you us you still only got 2 cups worth of ingredients. If you ordered mushrooms, bacon, extra cheese, and black olives as your 4 toppings, you got half measures of each instead of, as the customer would assume, 4 measures.

— Karl Mamer


1 We actually call ourselves whiteys in Korea (actually preferring it to the local term “foreigners”).

October 7, 2008 - Posted by | Internet Scams

1 Comment »

  1. Oh man, I spent waaaaaay too much of my youth watching Channel 50. From the moment I got home from school, it was cartoons, reruns of the Brady Bunch and Lost in Space, and whatever else was on, whether I actually liked it or not. And late at night they’d run all sorts of odd programs, like the women in prison series, “Prisoner Cell Block H,” and various British comedies. There’s like 10 years of my life I’m never gonna get back!

    Comment by dcardani | October 11, 2008 | Reply

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