Bait & Switch Advertising

If advertising was invented on a Monday, you can bet that advertisers invented the bait & switch on a Tuesday. We’ve either had it happen to us or we’ve had a friend or relative that can tell us one whale of a bait & switch story. It’s a time-tested, disingenuous, and, sadly, effective technique used by advertisers to draw us into stores and showrooms with the allure of a highly appealing bargain on a specific product, only to fail to deliver on that bargain once we actually get there.

One example is the luxury car. It might normally be priced at $40,000 but is listed in a newspaper ad as ‘priced to move’ at $25,000. Yet, when you arrive in the showroom, that deal is no longer available because the dealer’s inventory has been ‘sold-out’ of the model. Frequently, these schemes involve the initial availability of only a limited number of units of the given product (maybe as few as one or two), allowing the company to ‘honestly’ claim only a few days after running the ad that they no longer have any units of the advertised product in stock. The company’s salesperson will then inevitably steer you toward another, similar product at a less-attractive price.

The practice is prohibited by the Federal Trade Commission. While the FTC has actively enforced the laws and deterred scams to a degree, bait & switch remains a stubborn problem that has never disappeared from the fraudulent marketers bag of tricks.

How to Protect Yourself

There are a limited number of tools that consumers can arm themselves with to guard against such schemes. One step you can take is to call ahead to any store or showroom to check that the product in question remains in stock and available for sale. Be sure to ask for the name of the salesperson with whom you are speaking so that you are able to report not only the company but the specific salesperson to the FTC in the event a complaint is filed. Consumers shopping for a car can find more information about marketing tactics used by dealers by viewing these videos released by the FTC.

TINA.org’s coverage of bait & switch scams can be found here. If you find that you have been the victim of a bait & switch scheme, you can contact the FTC and file a complaint. You can also address the issue locally, by going through your state’s small claims court or by filing a complaint with your state’s Attorney General.

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Established in 1914 under President Woodrow Wilson, the FTC is the United States government’s primary regulatory authority in the area of consumer protection and anti-competitive business practices in the marketplace. Its Bureau of Consumer Protection assumes the lead in the Commission’s efforts to eliminate deceptive advertising and fraudulent business practices at work in the economy.

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