Infomercials are fond of marketing strategies that rely on a theory of psychological pricing. You don't pay a flat fee for your Shake Weight or Magic Bullet or Ginsu Knife; you dish out three easy payments. And your payments aren't $40, of course; they're $39.99.
But wait, there's more! Did I mention that those crazy-prices include a free Sticky Buddy, the Reusable Sticky Picker Upper, just to say thank you for your business?
Most of us, for better but probably for worse, are familiar with the sneaky logic of infomercials. That doesn't mean, however, that we are immune to their charms. Nor are we immune to the pull—ironic, and also very much not—of the products that are sold to us in the late night and early morning, our most vulnerable hours, via charismatic pitchmen and sad-sack stand-ins for human frailty. Oxyclean. The PedEgg. The Pocket Hose. The Clapper. The Socket Dock. The food dehydrator. GLH. Which is, I mean, hair that you spray onto your scalp! Even the most savvy consumers among us can find ourselves ensnared by the bleary promise of life-improvement that can be ours, we are told, for only two easy payments of $19.95 (plus shipping and handling).
Which brings us to the other promise: that the price of said life-improvement is truly two easy payments of $19.95 (plus shipping and handling). Sure, we figure, the Oxyclean might not really clean things; the GLH might, we have a sneaking suspicion, actually be spray paint. For the stipulated price, however—for the payments announced to us by an enthusiastic pitchman and a primary-colored screen—we can try the product's promised miracle for ourselves.
In that sense—all of it—today brings tragic news. The Snuggie, one of the most quintessential of television's life-improvement products, has been lying to us. Or, at least, the company that sells it to us has. The Federal Trade Commission has found Allstar Marketing Group—the company that sells Snuggies, not to mention the Perfect Tortilla and the Bacon Bowl and the Cats Meow—guilty of hiding shipping and handling fees from consumers. And for, it seems, tricky salesmanship in general: The FTC's complaint cites in particular a "two for one" deal that told customers they'd get two (2!) Snuggies for "just $19.95," while adding on processing fees of $7.95 for each product—two Snuggies, in other words, for $35.85. And customers, to add insult to injury, weren't able to order just one of the muumuu-blankets. (And they could do that ordering only after entering their billing information.)
Though Allstar, which has apparently been carrying on the scheme across its products since 1999, insists that it is settling “without any finding" that it violated any laws, it is paying $7.5 million to resolve the allegations against it—allegations the FTC brought after fielding consumer complaints about company's behavior. (According to the Associated Press, a customer trying to order two Perfect Brownie Pans, for $19.95 apiece, ended up with six of the things after an automated phone message confused her. She was charged $105 for the whole non-sticky collection.)
As Eric Schneiderman, New York's Attorney General, said in statement: “This agreement returns money to thousands of consumers in New York and across the nation who believed they were buying items at the price advertised on television, but ended up with extra merchandise and hidden fees they didn’t bargain for.” Will it return consumer confidence, however, in the great institution that is the American infomercial? That, unfortunately, might be harder to rectify.