Thursday, July 25, 2013

Farhad Manjoo on the perils of overpromising in ads

With reviews like this for NeverWet, can the lawsuits be far behind?  What advice would an advertising lawyer have given here?
NeverWet’s instruction leaflet warns that the product’s “Flat Frosted Clear appearance may cause an item’s color or sheen to change,” but there are lots of weasel words there (“may,” “clear”) that suggest that the difference will be minor. After spraying, waiting, and spraying and waiting again, I was surprised to see that it was anything but minor. Imagine your shoes covered in a fresh layer of volcanic ash. That’s what NeverWet looks like. ...In its demo, the company shows how you can turn a cardboard box into an ice chest by spraying the inside with NeverWet. I attempted the same thing, and while most of the bottom of the box became waterproof, the side panels didn’t. ... I wondered if I was missing something [in his tests on fabric]; maybe I wasn’t spraying a thick enough coat, or letting it cure long enough, or perhaps the fabric was too porous? Then I carefully read the can’s instructions once more, and saw a note to go to the company’s Web page for more info. On that page, I found this warning: “Not intended to be applied to electronic devices or clothing.” Huh. Note that in the two viral videos, NeverWet’s reps repeatedly show off its utility on clothing and electronics. In one, an employee takes apart an iPhone, sprays the inside with the NeverWet, then dunks in the phone in a water. But the company seems afraid to claim that it can protect your valuables, so its fine print walks back those videos. “Can NeverWet be used on electronics?” asks the product’s FAQ. “No, NeverWet should not be used on electronics.” I concur. When I sprayed NeverWet on an old smartphone, the device was so thickly covered with the rubber stuff that you couldn’t see anything on the screen. (That’s why, in the video, they have to take apart the phone and spray the inside.) Even despite the thick coating, NeverWet didn’t protect the phone: It survived an initial dunk in water, but water clearly seeped into the device, and after a half an hour or so, the phone froze.
Practice tip: don't make videos like the ones described, directly contradicting the fine print/instructions. Neither the FTC nor consumer lawyers will be impressed.

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