Free Credit Report: deceptive advertising?

Free Credit Report: deceptive advertising?

“What the headline giveth, the small print taketh away,” grumbles the old advertising cynic. Sad to say it’s true, even in this era of supposed transparency.

Take the TV ads for FreeCreditReport.com. A young guy dressed like a pirate, singing (OK, lip-syncing) a catchy little tune about he’s stuck in this nowhere job because his credit was whacked. If only he’d taken advantage of the sponsor’s free credit reporting service.

Except the free service isn’t really free. First you have to enroll in their (paid) Triple Advantage program. But that fact is kept hidden until (literally) the very last line of each spot. The net effect is to admit that everything you’ve said up to this point has been a lie. The truth is, you have to pay $15 per month for X before you get the free Y. Which means Y isn’t really free.

Clever, I admit. They build the ads around the “free” offer, the bonus, even though what they’re really pushing is the paid service. FreeCreditReport is from Experian, the big credit reporting agency, not some fly-by-night. So I assume they honor their promise to cancel your membership within four days after you come to your senses cancel.

But it’s understandable why you might be hesitant. Any company that’s deceptive about a supposedly “free” service might also be the kind of company that makes it really difficult (read: nearly impossible) to cancel once you’ve handed over your credit card information. After all, why would a company like that suddenly play it straight when it comes to letting you out of your contract?

My purpose is not to knock Experian, but to caution against this kind of “gotcha” marketing tactic. They can backfire and cause grave harm to your brand. Think about that next time your marketing guru suggests making pie-in-the-sky promises. If you deliver real value to your customers, there’s no need to be deceptive or sneaky.

And in the Internet age, you will be found out.

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