Thursday, January 26, 2006


Are you fine with the fine print? I'm not. I'm in advertising - I love hiding shit in the fine print. Exclusions, limitations, and restrictions all live in the fine print. Dates and dollar amounts like to lurk down there as well. Unfortunately, the fine print is giving asterisks a bad name. Any time you see an asterisk or a little cross next to a word in sales copy you immediately assume a scam is afoot. It's just not fair to the asterisk, who is only trying to be helpful.

Let's consider rebates for a moment. I fucking hate rebates. HATE rebates. Hate hate hate hate hate hate rebates. Fucking just give me the damn thing at the sale price already instead of making me work to get money back. That's a load of camel crap. Yet you find rebates all over the fucking place - most often on high-ticket items like cars, cell phones, and computers. And it's no secret why - they're great for driving sales. Rebates from “factory incentives” to “manufacturer discounts” let retailers advertise their products at drastically reduced prices so people think they're getting a bargain. What you’re really getting is shafted at the register, then sucked into an abyss of dubious details and pointless paperwork.

"If this computer is advertised for $899, why do I have to give you $1099? Oh – I need to send in a rebate for $200? Okay, that’s fine. What do you mean I can’t do it until after I’ve registered the product online – that could take a while since I’m not wired for service yet. And when I finally am registered, I need what? A copy of the UPC code from the box, the original receipt, a shipping invoice, a copy of my birth certificate, updated credit report, my SAT verbal score, and a note from my mother? What the fuck. Keep the $200 – I’ve got a life to live here, you fucking bastards." Rebates fucking blow.

Look in the Sunday paper at all of the bargains “after rebate.” You can get cell phones and cable modems for FREE if you’re willing to take the rebate challenge. What’s the rebate challenge? The rebate challenge is the series of hoops you’ve got to jump through to get YOUR money back. And the hoops are made intentionally difficult - to promote what folks in the retail piracy industry call “breakage.”

That there's a name for it should tell you all you need to know.

Breakage is the term used to describe the failure of busy folks like you and me to apply and qualify for rebates. Most industry estimates put breakage rates at 40 fucking percent! Yes, rebates have become all the rage for the simple reason that people are lazy. We don’t like collecting and filling out paperwork and mailing stuff in. And the more time that expires after your purchase, or the lower the rebate amount, the less likely you are to respond to the rebate offer. So that extreme value you got on your notebook computer wasn’t really a bargain at all. Not if you threw away the box it came in. Not if you can’t find your receipt. Not if you failed to apply for your rebate before the expiration date. It's all in the fine print.

I don't know about you, but I can think of nothing more inviting than the thought of curling up on a Friday night in front of a raging fireplace with a hot cup of cocoa and a long-winded rebate form.

Did you know that 50,000 of TiVo’s 104,000 new subscribers never redeemed their mail-in rebate offers. That’s a jackpot for the genius who designed the offer. Here’s another note of caution for you. Rebate checks can take MONTHS to arrive. You need to stay diligent and check on the status of your rebate. Sometimes these companies will “forget” to send you your money. And when they do send it, it’s typically disguised as “junk” mail in the hope that you’ll discard it. The industry word for uncashed rebate checkes is “slippage.” Again, good to know that it happens so frequently there is a name for it. Not to mention mathematical models that calculate its projected profitability.

Geri just got a “free” modem for ordering Comcast high-speed Internet service. Her “free” modem cost $80. She can get that money back, however, if she responds to two separate rebate offers. As if one rebate wasn't going to be difficult enough. Each rebate has a separate form that needs to be completed...paperwork I imagine is immediately shredded upon receipt. The rebates also require copies of the purchase receipt and shipping invoice as proof of purchase. There’s a transaction order number that must be submitted. Each offer must be sent separately and the redemption forms are only available ONLINE. Remember - she’s getting a cable modem here, so she's not even set up to get online yet. Here’s the part I love. Not only does she need to download the forms off the website, but they also want proof that she has paid for a month's worth of Comcast Internet service. To prove this, she’s required to include a copy of every page of her first statement – which of course wouldn't arrive for a month after she ordered the service. Someone doesn't want Geri to get her money back.

Last night she got online to print out the rebate form and - lo and behold - it wasn’t available any longer! They’d replaced it with another rebate form for another offer with different qualification dates. All of this crap you have to go through to get fucking $80 back - $80 she shouldn’t have had to spend in the first place since the damn cable modem was advertised as fucking FREE!

It’s all in that little asterisk, my friends. I don’t know about you – but I am not fine with the fine print. Unfortunately, the only way we’ll ever get rid of rebate offers is to follow them through to completion. We have the power to reduce breakage so that it’s no longer profitable for companies to lure you in with deceptively low “final” prices. If the retailer wants to negotiate a deal with the manufacturer on their own time, I'm all for it. Leave me out of all that crap and just give me the damn sale price.

With all of this slipping and breaking, we're really not saving anything.

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