I spend several hours each day watching (or at least listening to) the Current network on television. Much like the Food Channel used to be, Current programs are generally good for two or more showings each day and more importantly they serve as a middle-of-day forum for those advertisements generally considered late-night fare. Yes, it’s the world of progressive commentary, penetrating documentaries, and a more honest approach to the political world, all wrapped up in Ginsu knives, grout restorer, magic spot remover, food choppers, and all those Ronco-esque goodies Americans cannot resist.
I have always viewed (or ignored) these types of ads with a jaundiced eye and considered Ron Popeil a valuable alternative to Jerry Lewis but not as funny as the Reverend Jim. Throughout the years I have learned that the Ginsu knife, without the cool name and advertising hype, had been available in most hardware or general merchandise stores for years, that my vacuum cleaner could cut my hair and possibly even julienne my carrots, that I could catch an 1800 pound marlin on a two-foot plastic stick I kept ready in my briefcase for just such purposes, and if I ever go bald, there is a fantastic hair-in-a-can that even the Men’s Hair Club doesn’t offer.
But have you ever stopped to consider the economics of these wonderful products, especially with the fantastic if-you-order-today specials? Let’s walk it through.
First, let’s get real and accept that the cost of any late-night product is mostly in the advertising and the production costs are usually a small percentage of the price. So let’s take the vebelfetzer I saw advertised on the television earlier this morning when I was watching progressive radio. If you’re familiar with vebelfetzers, you might agree with me that the more modern versions are probably ten cents worth of plastic and two shiny washers. Still, you can get one for only $9.99 … but wait!
Yes, not only do you get the fabulous vebelfetzer but also a pink pearl eraser that magically removes pencil marks will be included for free. Wow! And all that for only $9.99 … but wait! If you call in the next hour they are going to double the offer and send you two vebelfetzers and two pink pearl erasers, all you have to do is pay processing and handling.
Oh my goodness … what a deal. But have you ever read the fine print on that last brief message flashed on the screen or were you running to the phone to beat the deadline and guarantee receiving the limited-time special double-vebelfetzer offer? With the magic of modern electronics you can now pause the image and even roll it back and forth until you read all the fine print. This is what I found and it’s even more nefarious than I earlier assumed. The vebelfetzer is only $9.99 but the processing and handling is another $6.95. Since you must pay processing and handling for the original vebelfetzer and the free second vebelfetzer, the total cost of this transaction is $9.99 + $6.95 + $6.95 = $23.89. Still, that is more than made up for by the no-risk money back guarantee. But if you read the little letters you get your money back but you have to pay to ship the product back and the processing and handling is not refunded. Wait! This means that I am guaranteed to spend well over fourteen dollars and won’t even have a shoddy vebelfetzer to show off to the neighbors.
But I forget: if it’s the American way to get ahead and make a profit at any cost, then it is my job to be the victim and to send my money to the greedy few who are looking to expand their wealth. If I do not allow myself to be duped by the free-market the conservatives will brand me as unpatriotic since I failed to feed their greed.
Talk about redistribution of wealth!