August 10, 2008

Caveat Emptor redux: Another deceptive JT ad

The Journal Times is up to its old tricks, running a deceptive ad aimed at taking advantage of unsuspecting readers.

Remember last January, when the JT ran a full-page ad selling an over-priced "Amish man's miracle idea" for cutting heating costs? We headlined our report Caveat Emptor, Journal Times' Amish Edition.

Well, that was then -- Wisconsin was in the ad's "frigid zone" -- and this is now, when Wisconsin is in the new ad's "sizzling zone."

The new ad is remarkably similar in all respects to last January's selling dressed up Chinese-made electric space heaters. The new ad, appearing for the first time in today's Journal Times -- and in other newspapers as well -- took up a full page (we've printed here the two-page version of the same ad we found on the 'net, since the JT didn't put theirs online). It touts a portable "air cooling breakthrough," also Chinese-made, that uses "the same electricity as a 60-watt light bulb."

The ad spends most of its copy and graphics playing up the $50 gas card purchasers will receive as a bonus. The biggest picture, as you can see above, is of a crowded gas station -- totally irrelevant to the product being sold. In fact, there's just brief mention in the ad of the price of this wonder: it's $228. Plus, what you don't find until you click through the ad's website and go to check out, an optional $28 for a two-year warranty. Plus $49 for shipping.

And then there's the cooler itself, "a work of engineering genius," the ad says, that uses "the extra cooling power of the the reusable glacier ice blocks." Translation: put these liquid-filled plastic containers in your freezer until they freeze solid, and then place them where the fan will blow air over them, lowering the air temperature by "up to 10 degrees."

Did we mention the price: $305? For a FAN! But hurry: You have just 48 hours to call our toll-free numbers and receive your FREE $50 gas card.

As a poster put it on the Consumer Reports website, "What ever happened to truth in advertising?" What, indeed. Or for newspaper ad departments showing a little common sense, rejecting the fast buck and exercising respect for their own readers.

Interestingly enough, the post referred to above is one of only a few I found on the internet specifically about the Cool Surge "eco-friendly cooler." Another, on, pointed out: "Since the whole system (fan + refrigerator to freeze the glacier ice blocks) is ventless, it makes your house warmer, not cooler. That is, the fan blows cool air in your face, while your refrigerator makes the kitchen warmer. On average, the house gets warmer."

But if there was not much online about the Cool Surge, there was plenty about the company behind the ad: Universal Techtronics of Canton, Ohio, sometimes referred to as Universal TechTronics.

A July 3 post on the New York Times' technology blog, Bits, headlined A sucker is converted every minute, reinforced my own doubts about this product. It pointed out, "The Cool Surge will cool you — if you stick your head next to the vents." But the Times' piece wasn't about the Cool Surge at all; rather, it was about yet another deceptive product ad from the company, for a "free" digital TV converter box. "The gimmick: the box is free, as long as you pay $88 for a five-year warranty, plus $9.30 shipping."

Oh, and you don't need it at all if you have cable. And, "Given that government-approved converter boxes sell for $60 or less, and a government-issued $40 rebate coupon is available for the asking, this deal obviously makes no sense."

The Better Business Bureau has called Universal TechTronics’ business practices “unsatisfactory,” and "a bait-and-switch tactic" preying "on consumers' lack of knowledge" with regard to the TV converter. MSNBC had a similar report on June 23. So did The Consumerist. And the Los Angeles Times.

So consider yourself forewarned when we see this next ad in the Journal Times!


  1. Like the J-T cares about their readers.
    You know there is a Milwaukee newspaper who's owner help to drive the largest Film Fest in the State out of business and gutted his news staff to the bone IMHO based on his idea of what the fired staffed politics were like (Pol Pot lives)
    Sure am glad that The Post would not ever use anything from the Shepperd Express.

  2. The really sad part is that the JT has enough readers dumb enough to purchase these products. How else would this company justify the cost of a full page ad?

  3. So let me get this straight, an advertiser walks into the JT and wants to by an ad. The JT should have told the customer to get out and go spend your ad dollars elswhere? That's a bright business move. No wonder the founders of this great Racine Post couldn't cut it at the JT

  4. Exactly right: The JT should tell snarky fast-buck advertisers peddling pretty obvious deception to go elsewhere. That's what "standards" are all about. The extra $ in revenue does not make up for the money wasted by the paper's readers, and the eventual distrust by all -- even those too smart to fall for the deception -- of what's printed in the newspaper.

  5. Sure Pete your right, then come payday they can pay their staff with a slap on the back and a "you did a great job sticker".

    Bend down grab you ears and yank your head out of your ass.

    Ads of this nature have run in many newspapers and magazines. Not everyone can have the moral standards you have.
    Someday when you have employees that depend on their paychecks I'm sure you won't be passing up these kinds of advertisements either.

    Why don't you and Dustin build a bridge and get over it.

    If you want to carry a grudge go ahead but your 2nd chance careers may very well be short lived if all you want to do is complain about the JT

  6. Oh and Pete one more thing, If you have such a serious problem with the JT wouldn't it be beneficial to you to do your own reporting instead of linking to theirs?
    Just a thought!

  7. It sounds like somebody might be a bitter JT employee.

  8. We stand behind the quality of our product.

    Our advertisement does not say the Cool Surge is an air conditioner; it simply talks about the savings associated with using the product versus an air conditioner.

    The portability of the Cool Surge allows for one to use it for zone cooling in various rooms of a house.

    The Cool Surge is intended for use indoors to help lower temperatures in a room by up to ten degrees. Even on a day where outdoor temperatures are over 100 degrees, temperatures are naturally cooler indoors and our product will help cool the room further to the customer’s satisfaction. And in addition, our product will result in lower energy costs than utilizing an air conditioning unit.

    From its eco-friendly design that doesn’t use windows, vents or Freon, to its extra cooling power, multi-levels and shutoff function, we believe that customers will receive a great value in the quality of our product.

    Our gas card offer is directly comparable with other companies this summer who have taken steps to help relieve high gas prices for consumers.

    And our one-year money back guarantee gives customers the peace of mind they deserve by assuring we supply a quality product that we will stand behind in the event of a problem.

    We’ve found that the low end of other advertised air coolers starts at $100 and we feel that the quality and value of the Cool Surge adequately justifies our pricing.

    To answer complaints cited by the Better Business Bureau for another product line, we’ve taken significant steps to upgrade our customer service. These solutions have included increased customer service, extended hours and improved product handling methods. These have resulted in all of the complaints being addressed to the satisfaction of the consumer.

    Chris Pugh
    Cool Surge
    Communications Specialist