Paper mail, addressed to me personally, includes two free roadside assistance cards that I can use without cost for the next 10 days, should my vehicle break down. The sender must trust me by sending me the ready-to-use cards. Further, when I go online and enter the promo code provided in the mailing, it activates my name, address, and other info. The advertiser’s forethought, care, and attention must make the offer valid, yes?
Nada! Being somewhat of a skeptic when it comes to advertising, and trying to be a good steward of money, I scour the mail for the fine print. There’s but one simple line stating that installing a new battery roadside is not an option in my area.
I’m otherwise captivated by the outstanding price offered for this roadside service, and by the many things this company will do for me if ever I am stranded with my vehicle, or a friend’s vehicle, or my spouse’s vehicle, or any vehicle for that matter. They will change my flat tire, tow to a repair centre, get me inside a mistakenly locked car, replace a worn-out battery right there on the highway (if I happen to be in the area where this service is offered), and even bring me gas if perchance I run out.
This plethora of offerings is outlined in red and yellow under a banner repeating the word, FREE—too good to miss out, especially when nearly a 100 million drivers think this service is the best ever, yes? Nada!
Keep reading . . .
… ‘cause here’s what’s really going on with this specialized, personalized, targeted piece of government post office delivered advertising:
- First off, the company appeals to my emotions, pressing buttons like:
- Hope/Fear — What if I’m stranded on a cold and stormy night? Who will save me? This company will!
- Trust — The company has been in business for over a century! AND, they have a website which makes every company transparent and legal, yes?
- Instant Gratification — I’m promised roadside assistance will be at my beck and call, and all under 30 minutes!
- Act now! — If I act within 10 days, I’ll enjoy great savings!
- Next, the Decoy Affect — The advertiser gets the reader to focus on the price for two drivers in the household who sign up together! Such a deal, especially when membership for just one person is but a measly Toonie savings.
- Then, Loss Aversion — By acting now, one won’t lose out; one wouldn’t want to be considered a loser, or to lose the opportunity to make life a little bit easier, yes?
- Follow the herd — Buying into this offer, one joins millions of North American drivers who are obviously insanely happy with this product;
- Gifts — I can save a whopping $10 on next year’s membership by allowing automatic renewal of the product with my credit card; I can also use their roadside membership card to save a bit of change at other vendors in my area;
- And finally, Repetition—one of the oldest tricks in the book! You’ll remember my mentioning that the word Free was used over and over again? The word appears dozens of times over the 4-page promotion!
Now the real question: Did I bite?
I went online to ‘learn more’! Yes, I did invest time and am regretting that. Why? Here’s one big reason: the ad states that one will receive roadside assistance within 30 minutes.
In the decades of auto traveling across North America, I have yet to receive any roadside assistance within thirty minutes—an hour on rare occasions, but most often closer to three hours.
One chilly fall day on the 401 near Toronto city limits, I was left stranded for four hours before I received roadside assistance. Leaving my vehicle wasn’t an option, having had my newborn and my elderly grandmother along. I was with CAA at the time who weren’t at all concerned about my situation.
Rebecca Lee says in her article, “CAA tells all members to expect a wait time of at least 45 minutes…” Source Apparently CAA isn’t the only company that doesn’t meet the under 30 minute timeline. Don Archer, Founder of THE TOW ACADEMY, explains why wait times are tenuous:
Because MOTOR CLUBS ARE NOT ON YOUR SIDE. Because towing companies aren’t making any money working for your motor club… Once the motor club agent hangs up, once they have all your information, their responsibility is to find a nearby towing company to come and help you. But, rather than calling the nearest tow truck and properly compensating them for their time, what the motor club agent does is spend the bulk of time, your time, looking for the cheapest tow truck.
They’re not looking for the nearest, quickest, or best qualified towing company. No… they’re looking for the towing company that will come and help for the least amount of money possible Source.
Too good to be true?
The cheap rate for two roadside assistance memberships as advertised in the mailing didn’t end up to be cheap at all once I began processing the application. So, I decided to have a phone chat with one of the agents to receive further clarification.
The agent was of little help. It’s as if she read a script in front of her and was scared to digress in case the recorded call might show her to be incompetent. However, the agent did repeat one word that eventually revealed all—the word, BASIC. The advertising only applied to what was called a basic package which meant that the offer was only valid if I lived within a 5-mile towing radius. I’m at least 25 kms from civilization.
Rudimentary, uncomplicated, plain, simple—the definition I was going by when I saw the word used ONCE in the 4-page advertising, in 6-point font I might add. I felt tricked, rueful, that somehow after reading and re-reading the mailed materials, I had continued to invest time and even considered investing money into what seemed to be the perfect solution to emergency roadside care. All that glittered in the mail-out was not gold—indeed, too good to be true. I was left concerned that others might be taken in by this slick piece of advertising.
I was duped—me who takes pride in ‘reading between the lines’, to seeking out the fine print, to having some computer acumen for research; me who has taught a course on advertising!
Cheesecake and Lamentations
I ripped up the mailing, protested to my husband, kicked myself around the block, then decided to turn the tables of emotion and celebrate my ‘finally figuring out the scam’ along with the saving of my hard earned pennies, with cheesecake! Add an espresso to that luscious treat, and it turned out to be a great day after all! Until…
Follow-up… another advertising tool
A few days later, I received a second 4-page mailed document from this same roadside company. I guess when they hadn’t received my immediate response along with a payment and credit card number, they were prepared to hit me up again.
More ripping, no lamenting, no kicking… just celebrating with cheesecake and espresso!