huckster/n. 1. a mercenary person ready to make a profit out of anything. v. 1. tr. to promote or sell (an often questionable product) aggressively.
The newspaper and magazine hucksters are again promoting the purchase of the Amish mantle (sic), a very questionable product - a grossly overpriced, Chinese made, portable electric space heater, contained in a solid wood, and possibly partially particle board, ersatz fireplace, complete with artificial flames flickering from the glow of twin 40-watt light bulbs.
Maybe I should be surprised that newspapers are stooping to run ads like these, but I'm not. While I still worked at The London Free Press, the paper ran a double-truck version of the Amish miracle heater ad. The ad, clearly designed to resemble a news page, going so far as to credit the writer, is a disgrace, shaming the publications stooping to carrying it. The word advertisement at the top of the page is in almost the smallest, and in easily the lightest, font on the page.
Offended that this ad was running in The London Free Press, a paper at which I had worked for decades, I walked down to Paul Berton's office - Berton is the editor-in-chief of The London Free Press - I told him what a disgrace it was to be running this ad. Readers deserve better from their community paper. I told him that other papers had run stories in their news pages revealing the truth behind the false claims for the Heat Surge space heater. He listened politely to my rant and brushed me off. In the coming weeks we ran the ad a second time and we never, to the best of my knowledge, printed the truth about this rip-off.
I no longer work at the paper. I took a buyout in January. I no longer have to bite my tongue when it come to the Amish miracle heater. But why is it left to a blogger to tell Londoners the truth? Since I personally talked with Paul about this ad, he cannot claim that he didn't know the ad was highly questionable.
The local paper talks a good line about caring for the community but running an ad like this shows complete disregard for the community - for the readers of the paper and for the local advertisers who are truly the paper's financial backbone.
According to The London Free Press and other papers, I assume that many in the Sun Media chain carried the ad, readers who ordered their miracle heater and Amish mantel within the 48-hour deadline would get the imported hi-tech miracle heater for free. You only had to pay for the mantel, the shipping and handling and tax. Roughly $463 will get you the free heater. There may be importing fees, duty, still to be paid. If you want cherry wood (actually poplar with a cherry finish) plan on spending more than $500 to receive your free heater.
- "Amish man's new miracle idea helps home heat bills hit rock bottom" read the original ad. Now, the ad says, "Amish mantle (sic) and miracle invention help home heat bills hit rock bottom."
- "Fireless Flames" gives a peaceful flicker without flames, fumes, smells, ashes or mess.
- ". . . slash your heating bills . . . "
- "It produces up to an amazing 5,119 BTU's on the high setting."
- ". . . fine real wood Amish made fireplace mantles (sic) . . . "
If you think you need a space heater, the cheapest ones have a bad reputation. The fans can be loud and the heaters may not have a thermostat to control the heat - oh, the Amish miracle heater does not have a thermostat. What does that tell you? And it has heater coil construction like the least expensive space heaters.
A New York Times article in January of 2009 reported, "Since 2007, the Better Business Bureau of Canton has received 237 complaints against Heat Surge, many of them related to misleading advertising and customer service issues; the company currently has an F rating from the bureau."
The Providence in Phoenix carried the ad but then in a subsequent story addressed the issue. The deck below the headline read, "In tough times, newspapers get ad money where they can."
According to the Providence:
"When an ad exec at the News & Observer in North Carolina defended an ad the paper published for the "Universal Health Card," calling it clear about "what it is and what it is not," the N&O's public editor disagreed.
"To me the ad looks misleading and, from my brief research, promises more than it delivers," the public editor wrote. "I'm concerned not only that it gives information to readers that is at best confusing, but also that it undermines the credibility of the newspaper. The ad caused me to wonder whether the well-publicized revenue declines in the newspaper business have caused the paper to accept advertising that might not appear in flusher times."
The Providence in Phoenix is part of a chain. The reporter, Ian Donnis, contacted Tim Schick, administrator of the Providence Newspaper Guild in Rhode Island. Schick said, "As long as [such advertising] is clearly marked as advertising, we do not have an issue . . ."
Schick added that there's always a risk "that these ads will lure vulnerable individuals, but this is nothing new in the industry. It has been going on for a long time." I cannot argue with Schick there. How long have newspapers been running the 0% car loan ads? I addressed that problem in my blog GM Slight of hand . . . 0% becomes 7.2%.
To the credit of the Heat Surge company their website is far more honest than their newspaper ads. Possibly they could still sell their units without the questionable claims.
David Baker, Heat Surge vice president, 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."
So take David Baker's advice, if all you want is a space heater save money and buy an excellent space heater right here in London. Support a local company and trusted local advertiser in The Free Press. You will save a pot full of money and be a much better community supporter than the local paper.
Unfortunately, many of the small, space heaters do not have wheels. Oh well, you can buy eight or more for the price of one Amish miracle heater - just don't turn a number of them on at the same time or the miracle will be paying your home hydro bill when it arrives.
Consumer Reports has released a video in which they give their take on the Amish Heater from Heat Surge of Canton, Ohio. It is a very balanced report. Watching it left me wondering why Heat Surge even bothers with the questionable sales gimmicks. It they put their money into upgrading their product, installing a heater equiped with a thermostat for instance, I bet they would sell lots of these Amish mantels.
The colour photo at the top of this post was found in the National Geographic. It seems just about everyone has carried the Heat Surge ad. This company is clearly selling product as they can afford to spend big bucks on advertising. In looking through the National Geographic I found another questionable ad and one that was completely out of place in a magazine dedicated to protecting the world's heritage. I'll talk about it in detail another day.