Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Mysterious World of BNI

As a regular listener to talk radio, I'm more than accustomed to being buried by 800-numbers being hurled at me during every commercial. As an XM Radio devotee, I've become rather spoiled by seeing the name of the company trying to sell me something appear on the screen- right above the 800-number, of course. And this is what vexes me so much about this shadowy commercial for something called "BNI."

Two women are chatting, apparently walking through a new home. "Wow, I can't believe this place- four bedrooms, three baths? Gee, you're only thirty, we make the same salary Maggie, how can you...." one woman exclaims. The other replies "my mortgage payment is only $300 a month."

The first woman mutters "that's less than my rent!" (Side note: jeesh, is this necessary? Who the hell is paying less than $300 a month for rent? Unless you are living in subsidized housing, you are paying a LOT more than that. And if you are living in subsidized housing, how DARE you complain about the cost?)

The second woman says "I just called BNI for The List!"

At this point a male narrarator jumps in to explain that "foreclosed houses are a real bargain, many are sold with no money down!" An example of a house sold for $20,000- "just $199 a month!"- is provided. All you have to do is "call BNI for The List of bargains near you!" Do it quickly because "these listings go fast!"

Ok, just a couple of questions. First, why doesn't the name of this company appear on my XM screen during the commercial? I'm not even positive that it's called BNI. Maybe it's B and I. Maybe it's Bee and I. Could it be that this company doesn't want me to do an internet search ("BNI Cheap Houses Scam," for example? It may be Bargain Network, and if it is, RUN FOR THE HILLS!) Second, why no web page for this company? Same reason? All I can say is, in the year 2009 there is something very shady about a company selling commercials on the radio including only a toll free number and no web site.

Third- what's the real relationship between these two women? They seem to be friends, and we are told that they make the same salary. Yet one of them went out, got The List, and bought a house for practically nothing, while the other continued to live in a rented apartment. In real life, would not the first woman have mentioned something about her good fortune long before reaching the point of taking her on a tour of the house? I'd be royally ticked off at such a "friend"- hey, you KNOW I've been living in a crummy apartment all this time, why didn't you tell me about this great deal months ago??? Or better yet, instead of telling me to "call BNI for The List," why didn't you share YOUR list with ME? Talk about a "Thanks for Nothing" moment.

My best guess is that BNI sells foreclosure notices readily available in the newspaper or on the bulletin board down at town hall to people dumb enough to pay big bucks for a "subscription" to these "lists." I can't be sure, however, because the company prefers to live in the shadows. And that can't be a good sign.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"Can you hear me now?" More idiocy from Verizon Wireless

1. Man is heading to the laundry room in his apartment building with a load of laundry. Two creepy kids bleat "you don't want to go to the laundry room. It's a Dead Zone. No bars. No calls. No texts. No e-mail."

Guy with inevitable two-days growth of beard (because if it's the weekend, and it's a commercial, men must have two-days growth of beard) says "but I have Verizon Wireless (or just "the Network," which sounds eerily like something out of 1984 or The Matrix.)

Creepy kids: "That's cool."

Message: Man who appears to be an adult is, in fact, just as infantile as everyone with a cell phone on TV: the phone must always be in hand, like a security blanket, and you simply cannot even THINK of going somewhere which might deny you instant contact with the outside world, which of course is constantly clamouring for your attention. You can't take a walk in the park, go shopping, or do laundry without your precious little toy which exists to give you a pathetic sense of "belonging" to society. Actually, it's not so much a security blanket as it is an umbilical cord, because GOD FORBID if you aren't bent over a tiny keyboard or watching ESPN on a little screen, you might find yourself (gasp) actually talking to a fellow human being. Can't have that!

2. Black guy tries to rent a room at a motel. Old grizzled white motel manager says "we've got one room left, but I doubt you'll want it-- it's a Dead Zone, blah blah blah...."

Black customer "But I've got the Network."

White Manager: (Obviously dissapointed) "ooohhh....well...towels are kinda scratchy!"

I can't be the only one who senses a racist vibe in this commercial. The old motel owner doesn't want to rent the room, it's clear: he tells the customer that he "probably doesnt want the room." Assuming that EVERY customer nowadays owns a cell phone, does this guy give this warning to EVERY person who shows up when it's the only room left to rent? And what's with the "towels are kinda scratchy" comment? Has the owner just let the room go to hell? Why are the towels in that room different from the towels in all the other rooms?

I've been at a lot of hotel rooms where cell phone service is bad. No hotel clerk has ever warned me that cell phone service is bad when I've signed in; quite the contrary, I'm often told that there's free wireless internet access when in fact the access is so spotty it's not worth the effort. So what the hell is really going on here? Why is the motel manager bad-mouthing his own motel? And how comfortable is that black customer really going to be there?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Commercial Law # 3: More Is Not Better

I'm convinced that the most obnoxious standard practice in commercials is the "use three or more people to make one point" practice. We've all seen it- a parade of idiots telling us something just one idiot could tell us just as easily:

Idiot #1 "I love my...."
Idiot #2 "Service from..."
Idiot # 3 "Comcast Cable."

The more people used to make the simple point, the more jarring and irritating the commercial is. And it doesn't matter if the people are average shmoes or well-known celebrities. I'm not impressed by the parade of people spitting out partial sentences. Just tell me what you are selling me, please.

Idiot #1 "Comcast cable..."
Idiot # 2 "provides me.."
Idiot # 3 "and my family..."
Idiot # 4 "great service..."
Idiot # 5 (for emphasis, from a 'mom') "AND my family!"

Why can't just ONE person do this? Who are you trying to impress by showing us five people making the pitch instead of just one?? Do you really think that five total strangers or five celebrities are really going to sell me something one couldn't?

And of course, as if your brain hadn't been rattled enough by this idiocy, these commercials always end the same way, by bashing into your skull the name of the company that just put you through this misery:

Idiot # 1: "Comcast."
Idiot # 2: "Comcast"
Idiot # 3: "Comcast"
Idiot # 4: "Comcast"
Idiot # 5: "Comcast."

Well, at least they've reminded me who gave me my headache.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

How does one go about playing Russian Roulette Responsibly?

"There was a concert in town this weekend only, and I didn't have the money for tickets. I brought my car to CashStop, and used my Title to borrow the money I needed!"

"There was a big sale I just had to take advantage of, so I used my car title, and I got money, FAST!"

Ugh, there's no end to my disgust and sadness toward hopeless morons who are so incapable of managing their finances that they think using their car for collateral in order to obtain money "to get you to your next paycheck" is a good idea. What's the matter, all your furniture already at the pawn broker's?

The commercials that really get me are the ones that show well-dressed, clean-cut white guys walking into what looks all the world like a neighborhood bank or insurance company but what is actually one of these Quick-E-Loan dumps. The guy is greeted by another clean-cut man or woman wearing a smart-looking suit who sits down with the "client" at a big desk to "discuss the feasibility of a paycheck loan." Dear God, make this stop. Just because the man or woman sits behind a desk instead of meeting you in a dark alley, and runs television spots instead of operating by word of mouth, doesn't mean they aren't LOAN SHARKS. And spare me the "use paycheck loans responsibly." You can't play the lottery "responsibly." You can't use internet gambling sites "responsibly."

Look- do without the concert tickets and the big sale items. Borrowing on your next paycheck is just another step down the spiral staircase to bankruptcy. Unless mom needs a new kidney and the hospital will only take cash, you don't need CashStop "services." What you need is to get control of your budget. Idiots.

How To Rapidly Lose Your Refund

The smiling idiot on the street outside of H&R Block waves a fistful of money at the camera: "I got my refund, FAST!!"

The beaming young woman drives off in her car waving her own fan of money- "I didn't wait for my refund! I went to H&R Block and I got it FAST!"

Here's how Rapid Refund "Services" really work: First off, you are not getting your refund quickly. You are getting what amounts to a LOAN based on H&R Block's (or Jackson-Hewitt, or whoever's) determination of what your refund will be. And this loan is coming at a huge price- typically not a flat fee, but a figure based on a percentage of your "anticipated" refund amount. It's not at all unusual for people desperate for their money to hand over hundreds of dollars for the "convenience" of getting "their" money now, rather than just filing and waiting for it to show up within a few weeks (or even a few days, if one files electronically.)

These commercials are especially obnoxious in dire economic times like these- people are struggling to pay their rent, hold on to their cars, put food on the table, etc. Along comes a multibillion-dollar tax preparation company to offer what is essentially a loan at usury interest rates. So maybe you hand over a fourth of your refund in exchange for a loan based on that refund. What doesn't seem to occur to the sad desperate people who use these "services" is that their refund represents an overpayment of taxes, it's not "found money" and it's not a "gift." When you let a tax prep service take a chunk of it in order to get your hands on the balance a few days early, you are just cheating yourself TWICE (the first time came when you overestimated the amount that should be deducted each paycheck, which is why you are getting a refund in the first place.)

I used Turbotax to file my state and federal taxes. In six days, I had my state refund electronically deposited into my checking account. In ten days, I had my federal refund in the bank as well. I suppose that I could have had my refund, minus several hundred dollars, in the form of a loan a few days earlier if I had gone to H&R Block. But you see, I'm not desperate and I'm not a moron.

Side Note: Hopefully, this post will become irrelevant soon. The Feds are considering banning the practice of providing rapid "refunds." And who is leading the charge against banning this fraudulent, predatory practice? Jackson-Hewitt, of course.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Note to Nationwide Insurance- Violence Isn't Funny

A man pulls into a parking space, scraping the parked car next to him. He quickly tells the white-haired old lady in the passenger seat of the other car "I'm really sorry, it was an accident, please forgive me..."

The old lady steps out of her car and begins to bludgeon the hapless young man with her handbag- "Forgiveness?' she yells. "I've got your forgiveness right here!" She continues to batter the young man with her bag, which may or may not contain bricks, until he falls to the pavement. Her white-haired husband cheers her on from the sidelines.

I suppose that inside the warped minds of the good people at Nationwide, this is amusing on some level: "Haha, check out the old woman with severe anger issues reacting to someone bumping her car by beating him half to death with her handbag! Oh the hilarity!" But come on- this kind of nonsense is about as fresh and relevant as Lucy burning the pot roast or Mrs. Lockhorn wrapping the family car around a tree (again.) In real life, if I were that young man, I would be on my cell phone within seconds dialing 911. I would stay on the scene, assuming I didn't need medical help, to be sure that this crazed lunatic was subdued and removed from the parking lot by police officers. And I would press charges.

Just imagine a moment that the roles are reversed- an old lady nicks up the car next to her, apologizes, and is greeted by a young man's heavy blows to her face and body, which knock her to the pavement. Funny, no? NO.

I recall that many years ago, there was some commercial for aftershave which featured a woman slapping a man across the face- HARD. I wondered at the time if a commercial featuring a man striking a woman would be allowed in a commercial, and I quickly concluded "no way." And for good reason- Violence. Isn't. Funny. The old lady in the Nationwide commercial needs therapy- therapy following a night in the local lock-up. The good people of the Nationwide Insurance Advertising Department also need therapy. Because if they think their commercial is funny, they are suffering from severe disconnect from the real world.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Demeaning to both men and women, and it comes from my home state, no less

Pretty much the only time I ever see a commercial for Vermont Teddy Bears is right before Valentine's Day (they are like the electric razors of that phony holiday.) Considering that the Vermont Teddy Bear company operates in a very narrow window of opportunity you'd think they'd put more thought into their commercials, but no- they have all the wit and elegance of your typical EZ-Cash-Stop ad.

So here's how it goes- an office full of beautiful women in cubicles is interrupted by a delivery man toting a Vermont Teddy Bear. The lucky recipient naturally goes all to pieces over the wrapped ball of fluff with plastic eyes her boyfriend gave her- it's shaped and dressed like a bandit (or a raccoon or something) and she reads the card- "I'm giving you this bandit bear because you've stolen my heart" (or some such sludge stolen from the inside of a fifty-cent Hallmark card.) The girls around her squeal and moan with jealousy. "It's bigger than I expected!" the recipient shrieks- so she knew she was going to get this bear? Or does she just need to insert the proper sexual innuendo here? "Bigger than I expected'- Get it? GET IT?

The males of the office pop their heads out of their cubicles on cue, like prairie dogs checking to see if the coast is clear. And just in case they didn't get the message, one of the girls whines "I wish someone would get ME something like this!" And now it's off to the web, it's out with the cell phones, and in no time at all every guy in this office is forking over big bucks ordering his own ball of fuzz from Vermont, certain to be the key to her heart as well as her more accessible body parts. One guy even licks his lips thinking how much the girl is going to enjoy her bear....ugh.

Here are the two biggest problems I have with this ad:

1. On what day does the girl in the ad receive her bear? Valentine's Day 2009 falls on a Saturday. It's pretty safe to assume that she's getting this bear on Friday afternoon, the last day of the work week, the day before Valentine's Day. That being the case, it's TOO DAMNED LATE for any of the other guys to pull the same stunt and get their would-be loved ones teddy bears delivered to their cubicles. At best, they are going to pay outrageous overnight delivery fees to have the bears dumped at the girl's house on Saturday. The girl will NOT be the object of envy in the office. If she has half a brain, she'll see the last-minute gift for what it is; the product of desperation born of cluelessness.

2. Even if it's early in the week, say, four days before Valentine's Day, it's STILL too late for these guys to order bears for other girls in the office because it's been done and it's not special anymore. The girl who gets a Vermont Teddy Bear two or three days later is going to KNOW that you just plagiarized the first guy's idea, which is almost as lame as not getting the girl anything at all.

The only chance these idiot guys have is that the girls they are after don't work in this office- and that is not the impression we are given in the commercial. At any rate, if your loved one is really bowled over by a teddy bear, maybe you should rethink your whole "date girls with the mentality of eight-year olds" strategy. I have never met a woman who would prefer a toy to jewelry, dinner and a movie. A girl, sure. A woman? No.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Commercial Law #2- Wow, you are SO lucky you happened to turn to this channel!!

Commercial Law # 2-- if the huckster on your television is urging you to "take advantage of this opportunity before it expires" or says that a product is only available at a certain price "while supplies last," it's a scam.

I can't tell you how many times I've seen that clown with the headset yelling at me that if I'm not already on the phone ordering ShamWows, chances are I've already lost my chance to order these Amazing Made In Germany Towels. Because after all, supplies are limited and "we can't do this all day." This is an especially obnoxious marketing technique- convince the gullible viewer that what they are watching on their screen is a one-time, limited-supply, move-it-or-lose-it opportunity available only to people lucky enough to have landed on this particular channel at this particular time of the morning. Haha, you think. Your friends and neighbors are going to be sooooo jealous when they see the cool product you snatched up because YOU were smart enough to be watching Channel 266 at 3:24 AM waiting for the next episode of "Petticoat Junction" to come on.

Problem is, there's no real hurry and supplies are not limited. Call the toll-free number on your screen right now. Or in an hour. Or next week. Or next month. Maybe not next year, because by then, the guy selling this crap might be in jail (especially if his name is Kevin Trudeau.) Don't worry, there are more than enough ShamWows, MagicEars, expandable handbags and Real Estate Millionaire DVD sets out there for everyone. But these sleazebags don't want you to take your time, because who knows, you might actually start thinking it over, doing some research, or even (God Forbid) come to your senses. Can't have that!

So grab your phone and call the toll-free number on your screen NOW! There's time to think LATER- after you've handed over your credit card number! You don't have any time to waste- money, yes. Time, no.

Commercial Law # 1. Commercial Law #1. That's Commercial Law, # 1

Commercial Law # 1- The Likelihood that the service offered by a Commercial is a Scam is directly proportional to the number of times that the service's telephone number and/or website is repeated during Said Commercial.

Example: "For your FREE Tax Analysis, call 1-800-555-1212. That's 1-800-555-1212. 1-800-555-1212."

Or: "Go to That's Service. Magic. Dot Com."

This theory is based on the idea that if there are any companies that truly WANT to help people, giving the website or phone number once fulfills it's function- "hey, we are here if you need help. Write down this number and address. The rest is up to you." However, if a company is desperately trying to seperate you from your money, it will try to pound it's address into your skull in an attempt to whip the listeners into a panic to check it out. Also- these scam artists know very well the mentality of the people they are dealing with. Short attention spans, poor short-term memories= need for repetition.

There will be more Commercial laws posted here in the future. Feel free to suggest your own. Right here at That's

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Internet Speedway to the Poor House

You can tell how bad the economy is by the rapidly increasing number of Bad Credit/Work from Home radio commercials we are being flooded with. Very few make me as angry as this commercial for Internet Speedway:

The commercial starts with music trailing off and the announcer telling his audience "Ok, back to the show in a minute, but first-- have you heard about this? There's this new system that lets you make money from home selling stuff over the internet that you don't have to see, or store, or pay for!"

Ok, first gripe: the format of the commercial suggests that it's not a commercial at all, just a radio show host who wants to tell his loyal listeners about this "really cool opportunity" he "just heard about." This is so deceptive, and should be your first tip-off that this "opportunity" is NOT on the level.

And he continues: "I've got the number right here, it's's, wait...." and we hear papers shuffling around as he "searches" for the toll-free number to call to get the "free" start-up kit. Again- it's a commercial. He doesn't need to look for the fricking number. It's Right There.

It gets worse: "You can sell high-interest items like cameras and plasma tvs right from your home...people are making thousands of dollars...sounds like your computer does all the work, and you basically just collect the money." Then there's more paper shuffling, and we get the toll-free number again. And again. AND AGAIN.

Nasty, deceptive garbage. Here's how Internet Speedway works: Your "free" start-up kit comes to you with a shipping charge attached to your credit card, of course. Once you use the DVD to access the Internet Speedway start-up site, you have thirty days to cancel, otherwise you are automatically signed up for their "service." Their "service" is to design a cheap-looking website for you, at a monthly fee, from which you can attempt to sell high-priced items that anyone can find cheaper on store shelves and from offical store websites.

So you set up your crummy website, pay $39.95 a month to maintain it (conveniently charged to your credit card, of course) and watch people NOT buy stuff from you. If you are smart, you call to cancel before the deadline- and if you're lucky, you get something other than a recording when you call and your cancellation is honored. More likely you don't get to talk to anyone until the deadline is passed, and you are out the first month's fee. Plus your shipping charges, of course. Oh, and you have to return the DVD to get your refund. At your expense.

These commercials are obnoxious enough when the economy is humming along and the targets are people just looking to make a little extra pocket money. They are downright criminal when times are tough and people are desperate. Shame on XM/Sirius for selling ad time to these hucksters.

Quick tip, backed up by Consumer Reports: Pretty much ALL Work-From-Home schemes are just that- schemes. They are designed to suck money you really don't have out of your wallet. That nice man on the radio isn't interested in making you rich, and he's not interrupting his radio show to tell you about this neat new idea. (If he believed in the product, he'd be sitting at home, making money on Internet Speedway instead of creating competitors by telling you about it.) Use your brains, people.