Just the other day the kids were playing a game on the computer—Bubble Bop or some silly thing like that—when suddenly the 11-year-old breathlessly proclaimed to us that he had won a free iPad.
Understand, of course, that there are few words in a pre-teen’s lexicon that are more exciting than “free iPad.” The idea that he could have one of those devices of his very own made him so giddy with excitement that we hated to bring him back down to earth.
“No, you didn’t,” we assured him as we started walking toward the computer.
“Yes! It says I did RIGHT THERE!” he said, pointing vigorously at a pop-up ad on the screen.
“Son, if you click on that it will probably take you to a long survey, a list of deals or mailing lists, you’ll have to choose one or more things that you really don’t want and in the end, you probably only have a chance at an iPad,” I explained. “And there’s nothing that guarantees that they’re giving away an iPad at all.”
I felt kind of bad shattering this idea that he had. Kids are so trusting—if they see something in print, or hear it from a source they think is reliable, then they believe to their very core that they have been told the truth. Of course, those of us who have been around for a while know that in general, you can trust real people. Anyone else—whether they’re a salesman, a phone solicitor or a pop-up ad on a website—will have to earn that trust. And it won’t be easy.
The worst part of all this is that these lessons are necessary to keep kids from growing up to be potential victims, but there’s also a fine line to tread. Sales pitches may not be 100 percent up front, but there’s usually some truth there. The trick, of course, is to spot the catch and decide whether to go for it or walk away.
Many times, I wish advertisers would be more honest. I remember a childhood friend being so excited to order the “sea monkeys” he saw in the back pages of a comic book. Little families of fish-people, swimming around in tiny cities, going out for tiny picnics—I had to admit, it looked amazing. He was disappointed when what he received in the mail was a colony of brine shrimp. The disappointment didn’t stem from the fact that they were brine shrimp; he actually really liked feeding those tiny creatures and watching them swim around. He was disappointed because they were nothing like what was advertised.
I’ve learned some of these lessons the hard way. As a young couple, my wife and I entered a drawing for a free car or a bundle of cash and soon found ourselves in a sales seminar where we were being pitched a “vacation club”—kind of a timeshare on steroids. For two hours or more, we heard the pitch.
They never lied to us, but I can’t say they didn’t mislead us. They started out talking about hotel prices, which at the time were probably in the $39.95 to $59.95 range for most of the people there. They talked about how expensive it could get to vacation at those rates, and how their plan—which included a wide array of hotels and resorts all over the world—could save us that money. After all this talk, they revealed the membership fee and the $100 annual dues. After all this talk of nightly stays in hotels, what we heard was a membership fee of $52.95. What they meant was a membership fee of $5,295.
This was outside our budget, and we knew it. It took some talking, but we finally got out of there with our bank account intact. We didn’t win the car or the cash, but we did get a gift card for a restaurant. Lesson learned.
I think sometimes those lessons have to come the hard way. Whether it’s cheap sunglasses that break during the car trip home, a remote-controlled car that loses a wheel the first time it’s turned on or a gadget that doesn’t do just what it’s supposed to do, there’s nothing like losing money on a bad deal to drive home the fact that not everyone is honest, and there’s such a thing as “too good to be true.”
I just wish the kids could stay “innocent” for just a little while longer.
By Eric Copeland • firstname.lastname@example.org