Saturday, September 11, 2010

More Puffery from the Amish Heater Company

Last week, I heard from a reader that there was a new version of the Amish Fireplace ad. Today was my chance to see it for myself in the Star Tribune:

Full page ad headlined Amish Fireplaces win consumer evals
It has all the usual Universal Media Syndicate text and design elements -- the 48-hour, limited-time offer, the get-something-free-if-you-pay-for-something-else-plus-shipping price (at a price that any buyer would be wise to comparison shop first), and lots of photos of Amish men in straw hats.

What's new in this ad:

1. The claim that the fireplaces have won "consumer evals." Specifically, the photo and caption halfway down on the left claim that "The HEAT SURGE Fireplaces have received the certification of Underwriters Laboratories and the coveted UL listing." A listed number of E322174 is given. While it's good to know that the heaters have been certified by Underwriters Labs, it doesn't mean anything about their overall quality or whether they are a good buy -- it just means they're safe to use.

The second "eval" is much more vague and meaningless. Midway down the text on the right side, there's a subhead that reads "Rated a Consumer Best Buy":

Close up of ad text claiming the fireplaces earned a Consumer Best Buy Rating
What the heck does that mean? Rated by whom?

It appears they've mashed together some phrases potential buyers have in their heads (perhaps Consumer Reports and Best Buy?) and fabricated a phantom rating. Googling the phrase "Consumer Best Buy" turns up websites for Consumer Reports and a European organization called Ethical Consumer. It's extremely unlikely the Heat Surge "rating" is from Consumer Reports, because if it was, the ad would trumpet it the way it did the UL certification. And the Ethical Consumer organization seems equally unlikely, despite having something called an Ethical Consumer Best Buy Label, since their criteria appear to be mostly about sustainability and treatment of animals.

2. The claim that Heat Surge is offered at a low price so people can cut their heat bills... The reason? "It shows we care," the ad claims:

Close up of ad text where they claim they care
In my opinion, if they really "cared," they'd sell their product in a straight-forward, fact-based manner, without the advertorial layout and limited-time free offer.

Finally, it's not a new claim, but the idea that it's "like putting $500 bucks in your pocket right now" if you buy two Amish mantles is patently absurd. The mantles cost between $298 and $348 apiece. After paying shipping (however much that is), you get two "free" heaters that have a listed price of $249.

Other 1500-watt heaters with the highest ratings from Consumer Reports cost between $60 and $80, and are available at many fine retail outlets, so you wouldn't have to pay for shipping at all.

So how is buying at least $596 worth of mantles like putting $500 in your pocket, when you could buy two of the best heaters for $160? Even if you bought a heater that comes with a decorative mantle, your cost per heater is likely to be significantly lower than $298 plus shipping.

As always, Consumer Reports has the final word on the Amish heaters:

The Roll-n-Glow functions primarily as a fan-forced convection heater like those we've tested. Heat Surge says its heater produces "an amazing 5,110 BTUs," but that's just another way of saying it's a 1,500-watt electric heater..., like most we tested. And while the oak surround on the model we bought appears well-built, some pieces are actually veneers, and we saw some nail holes in the trim. So much for that "superior craftsmanship"...

How about those lower heating bills and Heat Surge's statement that the heater "can handle a 325 sq. ft. room for about 16 cents an hour"? Any similarly sized electric heater will do that, provided you use it in one room and keep others chillier—that's just basic zone heating. Note, however, that electricity costs roughly two and a half times more than natural gas, which is what most homes use [emphasis added]. So any electric heater will cost you more to provide comparable heat unless you cut down significantly on heating elsewhere in your home...

You'll find many less expensive but high-performing convection and radiant space heaters that will do a good job in a small space. In fact, David Baker, Heat Surge vice president, recently told The New York Times, "If someone would come to me and say, 'I need a heater and I want to spend as little as possible,' I would say go to a local big-box store and buy one for $29.99. Our heater represents a fireplace rather than just some space heater."

The Heat Surge Roll-n-Glow is not terribly overpriced compared with other faux fireplaces on the market, which start at about $250.
How's that for damning with faint praise -- "not terribly overpriced"!

1 comment:

Michael Leddy said...

I like the way you keep going after these ads. They’re among the many things I can’t stand about Parade magazine.