Just how stupid do they think we are?

business and consumers, business cheers and jeers

Every day when I drive home from work, I see a painfully intelligence-insulting billboard ad put up by some bank (it’s rather interesting that I can’t even remember which bank, isn’t it?).  It reads something like this: “3 cents back on every debit card purchase?  Just give ‘em a toaster and be done with it!”

So let’s think about this for a moment, shall we, with a few assumptions:

– A typical person makes *at least* 10 payments totalling $100 a week, not including rent or mortgage payments.
– This person could probably get *some* cash-back or rewards non-debit (credit) card.
– Such a card would easily pay 1% in cash or rewards (for instance, on my cards, I get a free round trip airfare for a spend of $25,000, a reward of at least 1.2%).

Given this scenario, practically anyone could make the same purchases on one of the rewards cards and in a year, make (from a *very* conservative estimate) $52 as opposed to $15.60 with the crappy debit card.  Not to mention enjoy far more consumer protections.  And the hypothetical $25 toaster that the ad makes fun of?  It would take 834 purchases on the debit card to earn the equivalent of that toaster. 

*  *  *

But the latest promotion I just got in my inbox even tops the lameness of the debit card “deal.”  Here’s the copy:

My [American Express Card] WishList returns June 6, 2006! Not only are we offering some of the hottest products for spring at Cardmember-only prices, but we’ll also be granting three Cardmember wishes on the last day. So tell us what you wish for by May 14, and one of your wishes may come true.

Hmm, I thought.  Aside from the it’s-so-‘99-ness of the “My” prefix, that sounds pretty neat.  Clearly it’s one of those sweepstakes where I say, hey, I want a [whatsit up to such-and-such value] and if I win, I get it.  Right?

Uh, maybe not.  Digging down into the fine print on the Web site, I see this:

Is My Wish a sweepstakes?
No, this promotion is not a sweepstakes, as Cardmembers will be given an opportunity to purchase the submitted Wish should their Wish be selected. Wishes will be selected at the sole discretion of American Express. The Wish selected will be offered to the Wish’s submitter to purchase before making limited quantities available to the general Cardmember audience, who will also be eligible to purchase the item(s); the same Terms and Conditions of My WishList will apply.

Oh boy!  Let me see if I understand this right.  I get my inbox crammed with another AMEX ad that has nothing to do with my account.  I then have the wonderous opportunity of coming up with my dream present, vacation, etc., and filling out some form on AMEX’s Web site (undoubtedly opening me up to more junk mail).  And then, if I’m lucky—oh so lucky!—AMEX will choose MY fantasy to come true and offer me a chance to buy it or pay for it myself (I guess where that’s where the “MY” comes in:  “at MY Expense”).  Of course, they won’t offer it to all their cardmembers… right away, at least, so I’ll feel particularly special.

*  *  *

Who comes up with crap like this?  And does anyone actually get excited by it?

Sadly, I’m going to guess that the answer to the second question is “yes,” or why would we continue to see such ridiculously dumb marketing?

Ah, don’t mind me.  I just had a (thankfully rare) day spent at the local mall and I’m feeling rather anti-commerce at the moment in general.

16 comments… add one
  • panasianbiz May 7, 2006

    Wow, that American Express non-sweepstakes wish list thing sounds like a total farce. I guess they are betting that 99% of their customers don’t make it as far as the fine print. But that sure as hell is a misleading way to phrase it (“we’ll be granting three Cardmember wishes on the last day”).

  • Matt Hendrickson May 7, 2006

    This is why I do not have, nor will ever have, a credit card.

  • Adam May 9, 2006

    Wow, Matt, no credit cards at all?!  I’d be wary of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, as they say… especially since it’s the debit cards that are more typically evil 😀

    And besides, how would you rent a car or pay for a hotel…?

  • Dave Bascom May 15, 2006

    They did something like this last year and the stuff you had to “buy” were at hugely discounted prices. For example, you could purchase a $60,000 Mercedes for $5,000. Believe me, I tried to buy one, but I guess someone else got it. They had a lot of other ridiculously cheap deals, too. They’re basically giveaways, but it’s technically not a sweepstakes. Membership has its privileges, right?

  • Uh, buy a clue May 27, 2006

    I suggest you do a bit of research on this Amex contest before looking too foolish. I have participated in the Wishlist contest for the past 4 versions, and I’ve “won” everything from a $10,000 cruise (for $3000), to a private jet excursion worth $33,000 (for $3000) in which I sold on Ebay for a $8000.00 profit after taxes. I’ve got a ski trip, skis, XM radio, expresso machines, and after selling the items I didn’t need for at least a 100% profit on each, all of the other goodies came free. Of course they ding you on taxes on some prizes, so you just need to plan and factor that in. Do yourself a favor, open your eyes occasionally and don’t dismiss everything because there are many scams that look similar. You’re the one that will lose out!

  • Adam May 28, 2006

    Iiiiiinteresting ;-).

    There’s quite a stark contrast between what you note here (and what I read in the FatWallet thread where you’re bragging)

    …and what I see on the official page for this specific promotion.

    What do I see?

    Laughably worthless “discounts” off of rack rates, promotions that one can find on any coupon site, and a handful of made-up marketing words so corny that it makes fourth-of-July picnic food look less yellow.

    Perhaps you really did make a few thousand off of arbitraging jet plane rides.  Congrats 🙂

    But from the looks of THIS contest (which is what I was writing about), well, let’s just say I’m not hugely optimistic about massive winnings, with or without all the click-fraud and other fraud that was apparently part of earlier Amex contests 😀

  • Adam May 28, 2006

    Actually (and somewhat embarrassingly), I think I may possibly need to post a retraction; in looking closer, it looks like the page I linked to on Amex’s site may be advertising “specials” (which, indeed, as noted, aren’t very special) as a *separate* thing from the MyWish contest, which may actually be fully revealed on June 6th.

    If, indeed, this is the case, I apologize in particular the perhaps justifiably-bragging fellas above, and—after doing a bit more research on June 6—I’ll post an update on the top of this thread as appropriate.

  • Danny May 30, 2006

    1.  The AmEx Wishlist promotion is one of the best, and is actually a reason all by itself to own an AmEx card.

    2.  The Keep The Change program (offered by Bank Of America, btw) is also one of the best rewards programs around right now.  If you actually did some research before posting, you would find out that it’s an easy (ok, maybe not THAT easy) way to make a free $250.  With which you could buy LOTS of toasters.  Especially if you use 25% off coupons you get from the AmEx promo. moral of the story:  smart people can take advantage of these “worthless” promotions and be greatly rewarded for soing so.

  • El Jun 14, 2006

    Stop whining, will ya? Dont like AMEX mail, unsubscribe and be done with it. If shopping at the mall makes you ramble on and on about how bad commerce is, just don’t go! BTW, wishlist is not just about the 3 wishes that might be granted at some point, its about some quality stuff that can be purchased at lower prices.
    And last but not least, GET A LIFE!

  • sammer 101 Aug 14, 2006

    you guys are just loosers,give my people a break.scam is a thing of intelligence,why not try it.
    scammer101 from canada.
    send me a reply message anytime and i would teach you how we think.
    thanks

  • tony Dec 7, 2006

    Check out the FRONTLINE special on credit cards and the laws that are in force that NOT even lawyers can read(that small print pamplet they send you )..hopefully we’ll be seeing some needed changes soon!

    Tony

  • John Feb 26, 2008

    Hey beprotected,
    I don’t thinks so this kind of problem ever faced.

  • Online Shopping May 22, 2008

    When you are involved in online business than for you it’s very hard to track records of finance and payments. Well credit card really helps for that, but i hate never use credit cards in offline business.

  • allergy Jun 19, 2008

    yes its difficult to maintain

  • Jack Jun 28, 2008

    I totally agree with you, debit cards (and especially the ad you’re talking about) are pretty bad some times. This is why 99% of the time i try to use my credit card, anyway we have some high fees here on most debit card transactions.

  • I as really enjoyed reading this.
    As the author wrote, not many people do that kind of calculation.
    Therefore, they loose money.
    Are there any more solution for that?

What do you think?