Friday, March 09, 2007

Hello, Stupid!

I buy a lot of chocolate-covered donuts. I buy them largely because, in the brand I buy, each one has 320 calories, and with as little as I eat, the calories are important. They come in a box of 8 large donuts and cost $3.69 a box. Lately, I’ve had some problem in finding them. Yesterday, there were none. But I saw they had apparently replaced the 8-donut box with a much smaller 12-donut box (each donut about half the size and having 160 calories each). The price remains $3.69. But, hey, they’re giving me four more donuts! Oh, thank you, donut company! So I’m getting, in effect, 1/4 less product for the same amount of money? They’re banking (literally) on the fact that I’m far too stupid to realize I’m being screwed.

H.L. Mencken once said "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public," and business has certainly taken this as a mantra.

Try to reach any large company by phone. Call any day, any time of day, and the first thing you hear is "Due to unexpectedly heavy traffic...." followed by "Your call is very important to us." Oh. Okay. Unexpectedly heavy traffic. Sure. How can they possibly anticipate that more of their 2 million customers might want to get in touch with them than their two switchboard operators can handle? ("Your call will be answered in approximately 53 minutes.") And of course I absolutely believe them when they reassure me that my call is of vital importance to them. (Who am I, again?)

There’s a ubiquitous ad running on TV offering a "FREE Credit Report!" It’s only when you read the small print or are stupid enough to actually try to call the number they give you that you discover the "Free" only applies if you spend a fortune to join something or other—I take great pride in not remembering what.

I’ve commented somewhere else on once having been conned into buying a bag of potato chips with a huge banner saying: "NEW! Larger Bag!." The price went up a quarter, but comparing the "NEW" bag to a remaining "older" version showed that the amount of chips in the bag remained unchanged. Once again, the manufacturer is confident that the buyer is truly too stupid to see through the con.

And furniture store ads screaming "No Interest until 2215!!", are counting on your being far too stupid to realize this means you’ll be paying for it until 2215.

Fast food ads show a two-foot-high sandwich from which meat and cheese and wondrous things literally are falling out of the picture-perfect bun. They’re confident when you’re suckered into actually ordering one of the things, that you’re too dumb to notice that you need a magnifying glass to locate whatever is squashed inside an unappetizing bun. The important thing to them is that you came in and bought the thing, and I’ll bet you ten million dollars you never once said anything about it to the manager.

Debt consolidation loans, tax refund advances, and a slew of other altruistic-sounding offers to provide you with economic assistance are based on the assumption—sadly too often correct—that those who take advantage of them are too stupid to realize that they not only still have to pay off the debt for which they needed help in the first place, but have to pay a hefty additional amount to the company who "helped" them.

Hard not to despair, at times. But I’ve got to cut this short—I’m expecting delivery on my new Bow-Flex machine. In three weeks, I’m going to have a body like a 25-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger. Guaranteed!

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