Monday, June 12, 2006

Never believe a commercial

It doesn't matter who pays for a commercial--they're all biased. Most of the time, it's to get you to buy something. During elections, many are about voting for or against someone or something. I have yet to ever see a commercial that's actually designed to inform the person who's watching it. Never. Not once. Zilch, zip, zero. And anyone who watches a commercial--which is everyone since they're impossible to avoid--should remember that. Commercials are not about providing information, although they are often designed to look like they are.

The thing that got me thinking about this was a Geico commercial I just heard claiming that the typical person who switches their car insurance to Geico saves, on average, about $500. I don't really have a beef with the Geico company, and I actually think they're one of the better insurance companies out there. But that sounds like a pretty solid number, huh? Call them up for a rate quote and they can save you $500 bucks. It's a very misleading number, though.

First off, they don't say how long it'll take to save $500. I assume they mean $500/year. But a disreputable company might show how much you save over the typical lifetime a policy holder sticks around with them. So perhaps the typical policy will save the person $500 over the next ten years. If you happen to assume they meant $500/year, well, that's your own damn fault.

Okay, let's say that the typical person who switches does save $500/year. It's still a misleading number. What about all the people who don't switch? How much did they save by *not* switching to Geico? Of course people who switch to Geico are saving money--if they didn't save money, they wouldn't have switched in the first place. And the more they save, the more likely they'll switch. After all, if I'm only going to save $10/year on auto insurance, it may not be worth my time to switch. Consequently, the numbers are going to skew very high.

In fact, I'd bet every single auto insurance company in existence could tell you how much their customers saved by switching to them. State Farm, Farmer's Insurance, Progressive, blah, blah, blah. Every one of them can tell you how much money their customers are 'saving' by switching to them.

In a nutshell, the claim that the typical person who switches to Geico saves $500 is pretty worthless as far as being informative. It's a big number, it's an eye-catching number, and it's a number that means absolutely nothing. After all, they aren't trying to inform you about anything--they want to catch your eye and get a shot at your wallet.

Since I'm talking about auto-insurance companies, I'd like to post a couple of comments about Progressive's ad campaign that they'll show you their rates and the rates of several other competitors. It's a very clever ploy, I think. Let's say they show you the rates of four other companies. They figure out a rate to give you, then search their database of ten other company quotes and list four that won't beat theirs.

Or maybe they just stock their database full of information with insurance companies that usually have higher rates than they do.

Seriously, though, does anyone really believe those rate quotes for their competitors is completely biased free? They can give very accurate rate quotes from competitors and still skew the results to favor themselves.

I hate commercials. If they weren't so misleading all of the time, it wouldn't bother me so much. If they actually educated consumers instead of trying to manipulate them, I'd be happy with that. But alas, that is not to be in a capitalistic society. *sigh*


W&MGrad said...

To be fair, I shopped around and I *do* save money with Geico. However, that's just a break I get because I graduated from such an awesome university! :-D Without that discount, every single insurance company--and I checked all the major ones--gave me quotes within $15 of each other.

Ryan said...

If you want to save more money with Geico, I heard that they'll give discounts to people who are shareholders of Berkshire Hatheway (since Geico is owned by them). I'm not sure what you have to do to prove you're a shareholder, and I think there are a few states that don't get the discount for legal reasons, and I don't know what the discount is--just that you get one. =) A class B share is trading at around $3,000 a pop at the moment. Consider it an investment. ;o)