We all like to think of ourselves as savvy consumers. We aren't suckered in by the claims of cartoon bears who say their toilet paper is the best, and we know Milwaukee's Best is the greatest lie ever condensed into two words. But some marketing lies are so pervasive that even the most cautious of us gets suckered in ...
Parents spend literally hundreds of money to protect their children from dangerous allergic reactions, because of child neglect laws and like, love, or whatever. Collectively, billions are spent annually on hypoallergenic laundry detergent, lotion, makeup, anti-allergens, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Sure, they may cost a few bucks more, but you can't put a price on protection from nasty rashes or fits of acute death.
But hypoallergenic claims are never investigated by the FDA, which means companies get to set their own definition. It can therefore mean anything from "hella not guaranteed to not cause a reaction" to "this product wouldn't have allergens in it anyway, but we like money so let's slap a fancy label on it." So, how do companies ensure their products won't cause you or your child to look like they tested the wrong food in Willy Wonka's factory?
They often don't. An examination of 187 hypoallergenic products found that 89 percent of them contained a chemical known to cause skin rashes, and 11 percent contained methylisothiazolinone, which was named the 2013 Contact Allergen of the Year by a dermatology society during the lamest award ceremony we could ever imagine.
Why won't the FDA reign in these histamine cowboys, you ask? Well, in the '70s they had the totally reasonable desire to limit the use of "hypoallergenic" to products that were tested and "proven to reduce allergic reactions." But manufacturers complained that testing would be too expensive, and apparently that excuse, despite being terrible, totally works. The FDA says that "the term means whatever a particular company wants it to mean" on its website, while all us silly consumers thought it meant one very specific and very crucial thing.
Most people take the Environmental Protection Agency's estimated miles-per-gallon number into careful consideration when buying a car. And while it's true that the EPA established those mpg tests, they don't actually have the time or money to test the fuel efficiency of hundreds of cars. They leave that up to the manufacturers. You can guess how that turns out.
Manufacturers take every opportunity to inflate a car's advertised mpg. Most use a "certification test car," which makes the car you drive home from the dealership look like a used Pinto, and the tests are conducted on a lab treadmill instead of your bullshit street with all the potholes. Other tricks include turning off all the extra features (you never use your air conditioning, right?), taping door cracks to prevent wind resistance, and disabling the alternator which, for those of you whose knowledge of cars primarily comes from Mario Kart, is the part of your car that recharges your battery and is thus, pretty important.
All those little tricks are peachy-keen with the EPA, who rarely cracks down on even the most blatant lies. Given an inch, manufacturers have taken a mile that turns out to actually only be a half-mile, as the difference between advertised and actual mpg has grown from an average of 7 percent in 2001 to 23 percent in 2011.
Fuel-efficient hybrids aren't immune to this chicanery either. Consumer Reports ran tests where they did the unthinkable -- used public streets and ran the air conditioner. On average, hybrids fell 28 percent short of mpg "estimates," because the real hybrid in the car world is the one between truth and fiction. We're not saying buying a hybrid is a bad idea if you want to save the world and feel smug about it, but remember that when you look at the estimated mpg you should round down. Like, a lot. Then subtract some more. Then remember that it's even less than that.
Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Adam Gault/Photodisc/Getty Images
The common wisdom is that the higher a bedsheet's thread count, the more comfortable it is. A 200-count sheet is akin to sleeping on a bed of spiky garbage, while a count of 1,000 is like being cradled to Buddha's bosom on a cloud made of nirvana. But it's impossible to fit 1,000 normal-sized bedsheet threads on a loom, so inferior threads are used -- to the detriment of your wallet and comfort of your ass. Anything above 400 threads isn't possible unless you use thinner, "lower-quality cotton" that some might refer to as "orphan grade." These weaker strands are twisted together but counted individually, which is like saying you get 1,000 pebbles instead of 200 jewels.
According to the professional bullshit detectors at Consumer Reports, a 280-thread count is best for a good night's sleep, with even a single thread beyond that wasted on your precious skin. But that doesn't stop J.C. Penney from selling 1,200-thread-count sheets for 95% more than 300-count sheets from the same manufacturer to capitalize on consumers who live like blue collar workers but want to sleep like oil tycoons.
But what about sheets that use Egyptian cotton, the softest of all raw bedding materials? Is the inflated price justified then? Wrapping yourself up in Egyptian cotton is said to be like spooning the Sandman himself, but manufacturers slap the label on sheets that are massively overpriced blends with only a small percentage of the pure, uncut white stuff. So yeah, high-end sheet manufacturers are no better than your neighborhood drug dealer.
Beyond screen size, resolution, and the likelihood of becoming an interdimensional portal for poltergeists, TV specifications are a mystery to the average consumer. Yet we still purchase TVs based on how big the various numbers associated with it are, because dammit, we just know The Bachelor will look nicer if there are more hertz, whatever those are. But in reality most TV specs are phonier than the statistics in a dating profile.
Marketers know we love big numbers, so instead of hyping up actual statistics, they decide what the numbers should be and then get the engineers to MacGyver them into existence. So the calculations used for hardware statistics vary between manufacturers, making it impossible to compare rival TVs. Take contrast ratio. It measures the difference between how bright and how dark your display can get, but those outrageous numbers can't be reproduced outside of a test lab. The fabulous contrast ratio that convinced you to buy won't draw out the details of your homemade sex tape -- you'll just notice a contrast on your credit card bill, before and after.
If delicious red meat is going to get its revenge by killing us all, we should at least chow down on the good stuff. Everyone from McDonald's to your local supermarket offers more expensive Black Angus beef as an option for the discerning meat eater ... but you've probably been eating Black Angus this whole time, and are only now paying more for it.
Although it has become synonymous with ultra-tasty beef for hamburger connoisseurs, Black Angus refers to a common, non-spectacular breed of cattle. It's actually the most popular beef breed in the United States. So the odds are good that the meat used for McDonald's $5 Angus burger is the exact same used in their dollar-menu cheeseburgers, with the only difference being the presentation, marketing, and amount of disgust you feel at yourself for eating at McDonald's.
Not every beef cow is created equal, so in 1978 the American Angus Association established the "Certified Angus Beef" brand to seek out the most delicious Angus beef, because goddammit, this is America -- the entire reason we fought the British for independence was because of their subpar beef imports. Probably.
The association's standards are so high that less than 2 percent of all cattle becomes branded with Certified Angus Beef's Prime label. But that top-of-the-line beef was marketed so well that the average carnivore now associates all things Black Angus with the most sensuous of hot beef injections, regardless of whether or not it's certified. It's like saying you're a quarterback who led the league in touchdowns, while neglecting to mention that the league was in NFL Blitz 2000.
Simon Burchell/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Beats sold four pairs of their Solos headphones every minute of 2013 thanks, in part, to their feel. No longer must we suffer the tyranny of chintzy, fragile, tiny white earbuds -- now we've got huge, heavy headphones. And heavy means quality! Right?
Actually, the first generation of Beats contain four superfluous metal parts that serve no function beyond accounting for a third of the weight. Pretty much everything else in them is a bunch of cheap crap -- they only cost $16.89 to produce, but they sell for over 200 bucks. You're paying for the look, brand name, and pointless weight rather than any actual quality.
Adam Berry/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Beats isn't alone in using the weight-equals-quality gimmick, because on some level we still judge our purchases like they're a hunk of meat we need to live off of. You probably know Monster Cables from when you went to Best Buy and a desperate salesman tried to give you a good laugh. Monster's HDMI cables are bigger, blacker, thicker and all-around sexier, promising to deliver "lightning-fast 4K" because only their cables prevent the common problem of data getting clogged in the pipeline by constricted bandwidth. Well, that makes sense because data works just like a sewer, right?
If you've set up anything more complicated than a toaster, you'll recognize those claims as Certified Angus Beef quality bullshit. But a surprising amount of people fall for them, mostly folks who can no longer access the Internet because their entire screen is covered in novelty toolbars. Despite Monster's insistence, it doesn't matter if your HDMI cables are thick and black or small and white (heh), because HDMI cables have no signal loss -- they're either working or they're not. Monster Cables are less necessary than a solid gold butt plug, with their obscene 80 percent markup serving only to trick consumers who think size matters. It doesn't, just like we've been telling our dates for years.
These people are all about trying to sell you snake oil. Check out 5 Ways Hi-Tech Retailers Are Secretly Screwing You and see how most are selling the same exact products, just at different prices. Or read 5 Reasons Tech Companies Make Bad Gadgets (An Inside Look) to see why these products aren't even designed for you.
Subscribe to our YouTube channel, and check out 4 Horrible Ways We're Bringing Sci-Fi Technologies to Life, and watch other videos you won't see on the site!
Also, follow us on Facebook. Or don't. But please do because we like you.