Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama Mania -- at a Price

When it comes to both kitsch and sucker-born-every-minute examples, "commemorative" objects are a category all their own. As I began to see the Obama inauguration commemoratives being advertised, I put them in a pile. Here are a few:

Obama photo collage
Commemorative photo collage with "24kt gold-plated solid bronze medallions" from the Danbury Mint. Listed at $99 plus $9.90 shipping and handling (payable in three monthly installments).

Illustration of Obama with other items around it
A "Collector's Folio" from PCS Stamps & Coins, sporting an uncirculated Illinois State Quarter, a 24kt-gold, electroplated Obamamedal, a one-day-only postmark from Inauguration day, and three "mint-condition" stamps -- arranged around a "specially commissioned portrait." All this for $59 plus $4.50 shipping and handling (payable in two installments).

Plate with illustration of Obama on itCommemorative plate from Telebrands. Listed as $19.99 plus $6.99 shipping and handling. (Oddly, if you send them a check, however, the cost including handling is $33.97.) This one comes with a special bonus -- a U.S. Mint commemorative President Washington coin.

I'm not critiquing buttons or t-shirts, you'll notice, and also no items that have a hint of cleverness. No, these are all straight-up kitsch -- plaques and plates, primarily.

Full page ad hawking Obama coinsThe prices on these items are silly and outrageous, but they're clearly labeled, and so if someone pays the money, they know what they're getting.

Not so the most recent pitch I saw in today's Star Tribune from the hacks at Universal Media Syndicate and the World Reserve Monetary Exchange. Their full-page ad talks a whole lot about a "free" Obama presidential quarter, while what it is actually selling is a "solid Silver coin for forty-nine dollars" in a "handsome Presidential Display" (i.e. box). If you order that item, you get the "free" quarter with it.

Close up of the ad, showing the price listed as forty-nine dollars
Note the lack of numerals or dollar signs in that price (suddenly, $49 = forty-nine dollars), a technique they also use in their ads for the Universal Health Card. I read the coin ad thoroughly without seeing the price until I looked more carefully. (The other item shown in the ad, a set of five Obama coins, is never given a price at all.) This obfuscation of the price is a common tactic in UMS ads.

Other common UMS tactics used in the ad:

  • The scare tactic of limited time ("all those who beat the 48-hour order deadline")
  • Inclusion of a map dividing the country up into territories with supposed different access to the product
  • Provision of a "claim code" that makes the product look more limited and special
  • The use of words like "authorized," "restricted" and "exclusive."
Close up of the coinThe copy says that UMS makes no promises about the coins appreciating in value, but at the same time it recounts numerous examples of other items that have appreciated in value, implying the coins could do the same. There is absolutely no possibility these coins will have any special value -- there are too many of them. (The reason Teddy Roosevelt campaign buttons are worth $3,000 is because there are not very many of them. Remember all those Beanie Babies you see for sale for $1? The ones everyone thought would finance their retirement? Yeah. Like that.)

As anyone who has read my past posts on UMS knows, I find the company and its products revolting. Their Obama coin offer sinks to a new low. Perhaps the new Obama administration will do something to protect gullible consumers from the UMS and its products.

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