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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

You may already be a winner!*

Most of us grew up seeing statements like today's title splashed across the junk mail from places like Publisher's Clearing House. 

Not only did the law require an asterisk at the end of such a pitch (so that the company could place some microscopic caveat at the bottom of the envelope), but it also forced the advertiser to use obfuscating words like 'may already' in their come-ons. 

From an early age most kids became adept at spotting the catch... pointing out the trick... pulling back the curtain to reveal the impossibility of the offer.  It was all part of the cat & mouse game between consumers and advertisers.

But for some reason the Internet seems to have changed all that. 

Banner ads now say "Click here for a free digital camera!".  No asterisk... no caveat... no fine print.  But when you click the banner you find out that you have to enroll for some kind of offer for a chance to win the camera... or you need to sign up for a credit card in order to get the promised pay-off.

Up until now I've noticed that the more brazenly deceptive ads tend to be hosted on the less-scrupulous web sites.  I suppose this make sense since there is a certain honor among thieves... or if not honor, then at least professional courtesy. 

But today I noticed a huge blinking banner ad at the top of the Jerusaelm Post web site screaming:

"CLICK HERE FOR A FREE SUKKAH"

No asterisk... no caveat... no fine print.

For the record, Mrs. Bogner didn't raise any idiots.  I knew without a doubt that this wasn't some philanthropic organization that had sprung up overnight to provide free sukkot for the asking.  But it bothered me that they weren't playing by the rules.  No sneakily worded come-on... no asterisk... no fine print.

I was also bothered because not only was this bait-and-switch banner hosted on a main stream media outlet, but it was clearly targeting the observant crowd... a group presumably a bit more trusting by nature.

After a few minutes of reading the news I finally decided to confirm my suspicions and clicked on the banner. 

Sure enough, I found myself hijacked to a site called Virtual Jerusalem, where I was told that not only was I not getting the promised free sukkah... but I would have to submit my name, email address and geographic location in order to enter a raffle in order to have a tiny chance of getting a sukkah.

What had started out as:

"CLICK HERE FOR A FREE SUKKAH"
        (Do 'A' and get 'B')

had suddenly become:

"GIVE US ENOUGH PERSONAL INFORMATION SO THAT WE CAN SPAM YOU INTO THE STONE AGE AND YOU MIGHT POSSIBLY WIN AN UNSUPERVISED RAFFLE WHOSE PRIZE IS A FREE SUKKAH"

Are there no consumer laws on the Internet?  What happened to the fine art of obfuscation?  What happened to the surreptitiously-placed asterisk?

Being the curious sort, I typed in a fake name and email address... y'know, just to see what would come next.  I wasn't disappointed.

The next screen read:

"Thank you for participating in the Virtual Jerusalem
Sukkah Center Raffle. We wish you the best of luck! 

BUT WAIT!

You can increase your chances of winning by entering the sweepstakes again!  No signup necessary! Once per day, you may return to Virtual Jerusalem and enter the raffle!"

OK, so the point of the exercise was to provide contact information for the folks selling the sukkot and to drive traffic to the VJ home page.  But if you think about it, what they are saying is that not only did you not get the promised free sukkah, but if you don't return and enter the raffle multiple times your chances of winning will become increasingly slim.

I honestly don't know what, if any, consumer protection laws exist in cyberspace. But I think I have a right to expect certain minimum standards of honesty from a site like The Jerusalem Post.  If the Internet is metaphorically the 'wild west'... then at least some of the more legitimate sites can be assumed to be isolated outposts of law and order, no?

When I called the Post to complain, a polite gentleman named Derrick Fattal stated firmly that he saw nothing misleading or dishonest about the banner ad, and even went so far as to suggest that there was insufficient room on the banner for the advertiser to place a disclaimer or clarification.

I'm a big boy. 

I can accept that I haven't really won the Sweepstakes.... that in fact I am simply a finalist (along with Robert Tepkins of Pasadena CA, Beulah McAftok of Wichita KS, and Peter Pritchard of Fort Smith AK). 

But tell me honestly... am I expecting too much here?

For a better understanding of what a sukkah is, please go here.

221_16_5_71

Posted by David Bogner on September 27, 2005 | Permalink

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They could have made a really great sienfeld episode based on this post....I think you hit the nail on the head. You would think that the Jewish media outets would feature more honest advertising but they have fallen pray to a system that is becoming more prevelant these days. whenever you see a banner of any sort offering anything free these days there are always strings attached and I think you just have to assume that moving forward. Coming next:

Click here for a free tefillin

Posted by: Jewish Blogmeister | Sep 27, 2005 1:45:32 PM

I had a similar complaint about ads on the Jerusalem Post's website a while ago. In fact, I think I may even have included it in a comment here at Treppenwitz. (If I remember correctly, my complaint had to do with emoticon sites, which probably not only "spam you into the Stone Age" -- hey, I like that! -- but also put a lot of junk on your computer.)

I too wish that a legitimate site such as the Jerusalem Post would be more careful which advertisers they accept. But I guess revenue is revenue.

Posted by: Rahel | Sep 27, 2005 1:57:04 PM

I agree with Rahel; revenue is revenue. Most sites out there accept advertising from just about anyone.

Posted by: Essie | Sep 27, 2005 3:35:25 PM

Maybe Virtual Jerusalem is the company you should lodge a complaint with. Most media outlets accept any ad. They may even have a disclaimer. "We take no responsibility on the kashrus.... yada yada"

Posted by: Shevy | Sep 27, 2005 4:00:35 PM

Maybe it was a typo and should have read "Click here for free, sucker."

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Sep 27, 2005 5:30:08 PM

Right on! Although...after all the buildup, I will admit to expecting "For a better understanding of what a sukkah is, please go here" to lead to an ad for a free sukkah....

Posted by: mcaryeh | Sep 27, 2005 5:36:02 PM

Once upon a time I used to hang out at Virtual Jerusalem. It used to be a cool site. Haven't been there in a while, but they used to have a game called 'I am gonna git you sukkah.'

Posted by: Jack | Sep 27, 2005 5:36:26 PM

I suppose this is because of the unregulatedness of the internet as opposed to other media, but I also actually find it quite baffling. Firstly I can't quite bring myself to believe that it's legal, and secondly I can't quite bring myself to believe that either people are dumb enough to go along with it or, if they aren't dumb (actually even if many are), that businesses can think it's a good idea to treat everyone like idiots. Not good.

Posted by: Alice (Texas) | Sep 27, 2005 7:54:28 PM

Jewish Blogmiester... Good Point. I guess I just expect a legitimate media site to be as careful about the ads they put on their web version as they do with their print version.

Rahel... "Revenue is revenue". If that's the case, why don't they accept ads from adult sites or online casinos? The answer is that their readers would find it objectionable. My question is why don't more people tell the Post that this kind of shell game is objectionable?

Essie... As I said to Rahel, web sites are actually fairly selective about where to draw the line between potentially offensive ads and those that aren't. What does it say about us that the Post feels that such blatantly misleading ads won't offend our sensibilities?

Shevy... I am no more a client of Virtual Jerusalem than I am a client of the online casinos or Pr0n vendors. I can't tilt at every windmill out there. I can only complain to the site that betrayed my trust.

Doctor Bean... In essence, that's exactly what it said.

Mcaryeh... I wish I'd thought of it! :-)

Jack... I never know if you're kidding!

Alice... There is certainly a problem of jurisdiction/enforcement, but by and large sites have pretty much set their own standards for what they are willing to inflict upon their readers. Again, it says a lot about the way the Post views its readers that it does not find such an ad problematic.

Posted by: David | Sep 27, 2005 9:21:36 PM

Jack... I never know if you're kidding!

David,

Stop frolling around with me. ;)

Posted by: Jack | Sep 27, 2005 10:52:50 PM

In regards to your comment, "...it was clearly targeting the observant crowd... a group presumably a bit more trusting by nature," Mrs. Bogner may not have raised an idiot for a son, but there's a sucker born every minute. I don't think the percentage is any higher for the religious crowd. :)

We could sit around and talk for hours about why Jews think that they won't get hoodwinked by other Jews. (Or for that fact other people on the web misrepresenting themselves as being Jewish. Talk to me sometime about where a link for my kippah pattern ended up. Kinda mindboggling.)

One of the biggest challenges I had after making aliyah was coming to grips with the fact that there are Jewish crooks in Israel. It took me forever to wrap my brain around that one, especially coming from Minnesota. Yah sure.

Posted by: jennifer | Sep 27, 2005 11:13:00 PM

hey! just wanted to tell you that i applied to UCIsrael (which you so greatly recomended), and a friend and i just wrote the first post. if you get a chance go by and read it... www.ucisrael.net.

Posted by: Lisa | Sep 28, 2005 12:47:53 AM

Ah, the solution to this problem would be to use Firefox with the Adblock extension. No more banners, no more flashing ads, no more emoticons being dumped on you!
I am now so spoiled I can't surf the web any other way (i.e., ie).

Posted by: MamaWombat | Sep 28, 2005 4:03:10 AM

I don't mind paying for the Succah, but would someone come to my house and set it up? I vaguely remember a time when my uncle and his ragged band of mitzvah-mongers went around building succahs for people; which sounds very nice until you realize he was robbing the kinderlach of the chance to hear their fathers say: @#$(&#$!!!#*$^#*^@@@@!!!!!!

(Don't tell me, everyone else had a father who was a totally accomplished succah builder and never said so much as "dang" as a wooden beam fell on his kippah.)

Posted by: Mirty | Sep 28, 2005 5:52:30 AM

Just to clarify: When I said "Revenue is revenue," I was saying what I think may be the position of the JPost, not my own opinion.

I once wrote to the JPost in the past to complain about Jews for Jesus ads that appeared on their site, powered by Google. The reply said that the JPost can't control the advertisements they get from Google, that the process is automatic. I haven't seen any J for J ads there in a while, so maybe I can hope that someone at Google wised up and took them out of the pool of ads streamed to the JPost.

Perhaps if a bunch of us were to write to Derek Fattal ...?

Posted by: Rahel | Sep 28, 2005 11:16:13 AM

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