Famed TV marketing company must adjust claims to provide full fee disclosure

Blocks Harmful Rays!

“As Seen on TV” seems like one of those ready-made slogans that are just floating around in the collective cultural subconscious – used by many, invented by no one, perfectly suited to the advertising environment. It’s such a common ad tag that it must have been invented by many marketers spontaneously and independently when television marketing came into its own and began to dominate print.

But no – it has a specific inventor. Or at the very least, one company claims to have invented it: Telebrands Corporation, a direct response marketing company. Don’t remember them? Well, if you’re of a certain age, the following hint will bring it all flooding back: Ambervision sunglasses, their biggest success. If you’re a millennial or younger, here’s the ad for further historical study. Enjoy.

Illuminated

In July 2018, Telebrands fell victim to criticism for a different advertising claim it used, the ubiquitous “buy one, get one” formulation. (As far as we know, Telebrands does not claim to have invented this one.)

The advertising claim was used to promote Telebrands’ Atomic Beam flashlights. In particular, the television advertisement and website advertisement promoting the flashlight offered a second flashlight for a separate “fee,” but did not modify the offer to clearly disclose the discount or price offered for the second flashlight. The critic was Energizer Brands LLC, which called out Telebrands Corporation before the National Advertising Division (NAD) for further scrutiny. NAD held that the “buy one, get one” claim is generally understood by consumers to mean that they would receive the second flashlight at a deep discount or for free with the payment of a nominal fee and recommended that Telebrands modify its offer to clearly disclose the discount or price for the second flashlight (e.g., “Buy one, get second one for $9.99” or “Buy one, get one 50% off”).

Telebrands appealed NAD’s recommendations to the National Advertising Review Board (NARB), arguing that “fee” and “price” are substantively the same term and that the offer terms were fully disclosed on the company’s website where consumers purchased the flashlights.

NARB agreed with NAD, finding that the separate “fee” offer terms were much less prominent than the rest of the offer terms, to the point that consumers would not notice or understand the disclosure and – even if they did – the ad would give the impression that the “fee” in question was for the nominal shipping and handling charge rather than payment for a second device.

Moreover, the disclosure was only presented to consumers at checkout and not with the initial “buy one, get one” offer. This is another instance of the “four corners of the ad” concept, which recommends that disclosures be included within the context of the original ad.

In March 2019, NARB recommended that Telebrands modify its “buy one, get one” claims to clearly reveal the price or discount for a second flashlight and any other fees. Although the ads are no longer running, Telebrands agreed to take this advice into account in the future.

The Takeaway

Companies making “buy one, get one” offers should be mindful of clearly and conspicuously disclosing the discount or price that is associated with the second product along with any other charges or fees. The offer terms should be disclosed within the four corners of the advertisement and not just at check out.