First it was the cheap electric heaters in little wooden cabinets supposedly built by real Amish craftsmen, then a less successful "ArticPro" air conditioner, and a couple of other gimmicky products that weren't as successful in conning consumers.
Now the "Universal Media Syndicate" is back with yet another completely misleading full-page newspaper ad that's disguised as a news article and designed to separate unwary readers from their money -- this time for "Free TV."
Of course, local TV is always free to anyone who has a television and an antenna, and there's nothing new about a flat bowtie antenna designed to pick up the digital signals being broadcast since analog TV went the way of the dodo bird.
You wouldn't know it, however, from the headline: "Consumers dump cable and satellite for invention that pulls in free TV with no bills." The subhead declares "Slick little $47 invention pulls in up to 953 free TV shows with crystal clear digital picture and no monthly bills." A large picture suggests that workers are furiously shipping the product in order to keep up with raging demand.
Each ad is tailored to a local area, printing zip codes where consumers are lucky enough to have "free TV" -- which includes anyone within range of a local TV station. The ads are clearly designed to mislead consumers into thinking that the "amazing razor-thin invention" will allow them to bypass cable and get all the same shows for free, but that's completely bogus.
The "slick little $47 invention" (which started at $38 before the price went up) won't get you ESPN, or HBO, or the FOOD Network, or any of the other subscription channels that we pay the cable or satellite companies for.
It's just a cheap antenna, mostly plastic, which in tests performs no better than several versions you can buy at any discount store for $7.95 or less.
So, if you want to bypass all the cable/satellite channels and settle for local broadcasts only, you can spend eight bucks at Walmart, or be one of the first to call the toll-free number (within the next 48 hours!) and shell out $47 for an antenna that's no better, plus $10 shipping and handling, plus a sales pitch to purchase a two-year warranty for another $5 (according to a consumer organization called Stop the Cap!).
Is there anyone out there who thinks this is a good deal?
Of course not -- but misleading advertising and gullible people are a potent combination, and the money is rolling in, along with consumer complaints.
False or misleading advertising is serious business. We'll see tons and tons of it in the upcoming political campaigns, and it's shameful. The rampant nature of obviously deceptive commercials can't help but contribute to an increasingly distrustful society.
We'd like to think that churches should be beacons of a better way, but I wonder if this thought should cause some congregations pause. How often have you seen church signs declaring "All are welcome," "Sinners welcome," or "Everyone is welcome"?
And how often is it really true?