Category Archives: Consumer Affairs

McDonald’s “criminal” activities – Far too downmarket for the Sun newspaper

Jason Cook on his phone to the Sun newspaper

Author, film-maker and former criminal Jason Cook was in my back garden a couple of weekends ago, as a guest at Ariane Sherine’s marriage to Jeremy Corbyn – or, at least, the first day of a live action music video shoot for her Love Song to Jeremy Corbyn.

I had breakfast with Jason this morning and he told me the sad story of a mis-named McDonald’s Happy Meal.

On Sunday, he drove his son to a McDonald’s and bought him a Happy Meal, which comes with a free toy in the box.

Except that, after they drove off, his son asked: “Where’s the toy?”

There was not one inside the box.

Jason was going to shrug this off, then thought: No. They advertised a Happy Meal with a toy. My son deserves to get one and not be disappointed.

So they drove back.

“We bought a Happy Meal,” Jason told the McDonald’s girl, “but there was no toy inside.”

“I know,” she replied. “We’ve run out.”

“But you didn’t tell me,” he said. “You advertise a Happy Meal with a toy inside. You’ve turned a Happy Meal into an Unhappy Meal for my son.”

“Do you want to talk to the manager?” the McDonald’s girl asked.

The delights dangled on the McDonald’s Happy Meal website

Again, Jason was going to shrug this off and go away but then, ever the dutiful father, he thought: No. They advertised a Happy Meal with a toy. They should have given me one.

“Yes. I’ll see the manager,” he said.

So the manager came.

“We’ve run out,” the manager said.

“But,” Jason told him, “you advertise a Happy Meal with a toy inside and there wasn’t one. You’ve turned a Happy Meal into an Unhappy Meal for my son.”

“I think you’re making a mountain out of a molehill,” the manager told him.

“You advertised it,” Jason said.

Eventually, the manager grudgingly suggested: “You can come back tomorrow and get one.”

“But I live a fairly long drive away,” said Jason. “You’re telling me to drive all the way home and all the way back. I think I should have a refund.”

“Come back tomorrow,” the manager repeated.

When Jason told me this story, I suggested: “You should phone up The Sun newspaper. It’s a nice little story for them. McDonald’s Turns a Happy Meal Into An Unhappy Meal. They will pay you a finder’s fee for the story. You’re looking for £150,000 to complete your new movie’s budget. A tenner or £50 will help a bit. And McDonald’s must be breaching the Trade Descriptions Act and breaching Advertising Standards Authority rules by advertising a toy in the Happy Meal then not providing one.”

A McDonald’s Happy Meal box devoid of any toy

So Jason did phone up The Sun.

They told him: “It’s a bit too lowly for us. McDonald’s are forever not supplying toys in Happy Meals.”

Jason was once sentenced to four years in prison for being naughty.

He told me: “McDonald’s said they would give my son a toy with a Happy Meal and they didn’t. It’s criminal.”

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Filed under Consumer Affairs, Humor, Humour

Debenhams’ Black Friday discounts = dodgy dealings and PR disasterama

I’ve said it before and I will say it again.

Oh yes I will.

What is the point of having a blog if you can’t have a moan?

UK department store Debenhams are giving 20% off lots of items because it is Black Friday and – if you have a Debenhams credit card, as I do – you get an extra 10% off this week with a SAVE AN EXTRA 10% voucher.

Yippee!! You might think.

Debenhams’ card voucher

But do you get an extra 10% off?

Well, no you don’t.

For the sake of easy mathematics…

If you buy something with a display price of, say, £100 and have 20% + 10% off, you might expect to pay £70.

Not at Debenhams.

Because the “extra 10% off” is actually off the 80% price after the 20% has been deducted.

So, in fact, you don’t get a 20% + 10% reduction off the original price. You get a 20% + 8% reductiion.

This is all perfectly legal because, on the back of the voucher on line 8 of the small print (line 12 of 15, if I’m being pedantic) it says: “An extra 10% will be deducted at the till after any relevant discount is applied.”

The back of Debenhams’ card voucher

The back of Debenhams’ dark and dodgy discount voucher

It does not make any earth-shattering financial difference, really.

But it does mean that Debenhams’ attempt to court a good PR image turns into the PR image of a dodgy second-hand car dealer.

Black marks for Debenhams on Black Friday.

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Filed under Consumer Affairs, PR

Chinese Communism and how it overlaps British Rail bureaucracy

Last night, I went to the Empire cinema in Leicester Square for the opening ceremony of this week’s China Image Film Festival in London – the biggest Chinese film festival in Europe.

The ceremonial side involved lengthy bouts of people explaining that everyone had worked very hard and how culturally important film was and encouraging rounds of applause for officials who stood up and waved to the audience. After 40 minutes, I whispered to the friend who was with me:

“This is like living under communism.”

There were the distinguished guests from various organising committees and some officials had flown in specially from Beijing but also present, inexplicably, were the former mayor of Redbridge in suburban London and the Chairman of South Cambridgeshire District Council, who gave a speech in which he said he had visited China, but never seen any Chinese films there, so he was grateful for this opportunity. The man standing by him who translated his speech into Chinese looked a bit surprised, as if he could not understand who this man was or why he was giving a speech.

I had some sympathy with the translator.

The former mayor of Redbridge gave no speech, which I thought was a pity, as I would have been interested to hear what he said.

The opening film of the Festival was Apart Together, which won the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay at last year’s Berlin Film Festival.

In one scene a couple, married for almost 50 years, decide to get divorced but discover that they cannot get divorced without first having a marriage certificate which they do not have because they got married shortly after the chaotic civil war between Mao Tse-tung’s Communists and Sun Yat-sen’s Kuomintang nationalists when official marriage certificates were the last thing on people’s minds.

So they have to get officially married in order to be officially divorced on the same day.

Communist bureaucracy, eh?

Phoaw!

How the almost entirely Chinese audience laughed!

No wonder they love Yes, Minister on TV in China!

After the ceremony and screening, I got a tube up to St Pancras station and leapt into the front carriage of a Capital Connect Thameslink train, just before it was due to set off.

On the seat opposite me was a small but expensive-looking pack of 15 computer CDs left behind by someone.

As I was sitting at the very front of the train, I jumped off and tried to give them to the train driver.

“I’m not allowed to accept any lost property,” he said apologetically. “You have to give it to the station staff – that bloke down there the other side of the barrier.”

It was an eight-carriage train. I looked at my watch. It was two minutes before the train was due to leave.

“I won’t have time to do it and get back on the train,” I told the driver. “And the station I am going to is unmanned at this time of night.”

“What you could do,” he told me, sympathetically, “is leave it on the seat and, if it’s still there at the end of the journey, I can collect it when I check the carriages.”

So I did that.

Whether anyone nicked the discs or whether they were still there when he checked the carriage I do not know.

I am a lover of the surreal but not of bureaucracy.

But rules is rules, eh? They’re there for a reason.

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Filed under China, Consumer Affairs, Movies, Travel

Bankers, Cockney rhyming slang and a very wise woman

There’s a report out today about the British banking system. About whether the banks are too big. The problem for me isn’t size, it’s efficiency – and I wish I could say that in reference to other areas of my life.

The words “piss-up”, “brewery”, “in”, a”, “organise” and “couldn’t” spring to mind and the Cockney rhyming slang for “wankers” comes as no surprise to me.

For many years, my current account has been with Bank of Scotland; I also have an account with Halifax, which is part of Bank of Scotland. Both are now owned by Lloyds Bank.

Because of the lack of Bank of Scotland branches in London, I have long paid money into my BoS account via Halifax: I just walk into any Halifax branch with my BoS Cashcard and pay money into my BoS account.

If I want to pay a bill – a gas or electricity bill or anything else, I can now just go into any branch of Lloyds Bank with the appropriate paying-in slip and pay the bill using a Bank of Scotland cheque.

Yesterday, I attempted to pay a Virgin Media cheque into my own Bank of Scotland current account at a Lloyds branch.

I was told I could not pay anything into my Bank of Scotland current account – not a cheque, not cash – because, although Lloyds own Bank of Scotland, it is “a separate bank”.

Well, chums, Bank of Scotland and Halifax are equally separate, but I can still pay money into BoS via Halifax – and I can still pay a bill via Lloyds using a Bank of Scotland cheque.

So I can pay money into other people’s accounts with other banks via Lloyds, but I cannot pay money into my own Bank of Scotland account, despite the fact Lloyds own Bank of Scotland.

We appear to have entered a surreal parallel universe here.

So I am moving my account to Royal Bank of Scotland. They have not-a-lot of branches in London, but they do own NatWest Bank and I can simply walk into any NatWest branch and pay money into a Royal Bank of Scotland account. No problem.

Lloyds may not be too big to survive. But it is certainly too incompetent to survive.

I remember standing in Liverpool Street station in the heart of the City of London one Friday afternoon at 4.30pm watching City workers going home, early, paralytically drunk. Not just swaying but staggering, their limbs jerking erratically like headless chickens with Parkinson’s Disease wearing dark business suits.

These were not old drunken men; they were bright young City dudes in their twenties and early thirties and they must have been drinking all afternoon, while foggy-mindedly running the UK economy in the financial powerhouse that is the City of London.

I had money in two Icelandic banks when their entire financial system disintegrated in 2007. Those two banks were each more efficient than Lloyds Bank – and they both crashed. I suspect those Icelandic bankers did not drink ‘on the job’.

British bankers do.

Whither the British banking system?

Whither Lloyds?

The mother of a friend of mine used to live in various dodgy foreign countries (her husband was in the RAF and she later worked for NATO). She wore a series of thin but pure gold bracelets on her wrists because she knew, with them, she could buy her way out of any country if it suddenly collapsed.

A very wise woman.

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Filed under Consumer Affairs, Finance, Politics

Even average run-of-the-mill advertisements today are a bloody sight better than Van Gogh ever was – and funnier

I was talking to comedian Martin Soan‘s daughter Sydney yesterday.

She is writing what sounds like a fascinating university dissertation on Humour in Graphic Art and I told her I don’t think her father is actually a comedian at all – he is a performance artist with humour in everything he does. Art ain’t just Tracey Emin’s unmade bed in a Saatchi gallery.

A famous English comedienne once wisely told me that, because of the money involved, the best creatives go into the ad industry, the second best go into television and the third-rate go into PR for the publishing industry because there’s no money into it.

People complain about advertising hoardings in the street but they wouldn’t complain about a new art gallery which has free entry and, every day, changes the art it displays. That’s what ads are. You drive down the road or you walk down the street or you take a tube train anywhere in London and you’re travelling through an ever-changing art gallery. Some of the most creative people in the country are creating continually visually and verbally exciting works of often high originality, displaying them across the country at roadsides, on buses, in trains and stations… and these very creative and usually very costly visual works are constantly being changed for something new and equally visually stimulating and original.

In the Renaissance, art was sponsored by people who had the most money – the Church and the Medicis. The same applies today. The ad industry, using commercial businesses‘ money is sponsoring sometimes great, though always transient, art. I still remember some of the images in a famously surreal Benson & Hedges ad campaign of long ago. They were a bloody sight better than Van Gogh’s awful pictures of sunflowers or dodgy-looking chairs. And I remember the Benson & Hedges cinema ads. Particlarly one shot in the desert with a lizard and an isolated luxury house with a swimming pool.

People complain about ads between TV programmes but they don’t complain about the quality of up-market art films on TV or in the cinema. Per minute of screen time, an ad very often costs more than a mega-budget movie. And often both are directed and designed by the same people.

The ad industry attracts, most often, the brightest, best, most creative visual talents in the country because that’s where the money is. The best graphic artists, the best photographers, the best directors, make-up artists, designers and cinematographers earn their living from the ad industry. The highly-regarded British film industry is built on the financial cashlow provided by our ad industry which supports and stimulates the talents of the best creatives.

Capitalism?

It’s bloody great for Art and ‘twas ever thus.

But what I don’t understand is this…

It seems to me that US ads are concerned with selling the qualities of the product – all those dull shampoo ads telling you the scientific reasons why the product supposedly works.

It feels like UK ads are more concerned with making jokes, adding surreal images, linking the product to a general but very vague happy feeling. What are those Guinness ads about? They’re not about the quality of the beer – not when you are watching Peruvians doing odd things in Andean villages. What are the Marks & Spencer ads about at Christmas? Not about the products they sell; this year it’s all about Peter Kay and Twiggy prancing around very entertainingly.

US ads have a tendency towards the hard-sell. UK ads seem to be soft-sell sometimes to the point of the joke or the surreal image overwhelming the product. The artists seem to have taken over the asylum.

What’s that all about?

Is it because, as American comic Lewis Schaffer currently says in his act, the British like to define themselves by their humour – or, as Colonials like him would say, humor?

All countries believe they have a sense of humour/humor but Britain, suggests Lewis, is the only country that actually thinks its strongest defining factor is its humour. Even Margaret Thatcher had to try to appear to have a sense of humour to soften her image. Being seen as ‘strong’ is not enough in a British leader; he/she has to be seen to have a sense of humour.

President Obama has to show humour too, for PR reasons. But Americans do not see humor as their best characteristic.

The Americans arguably like to see their best quality as being go-getting and full of energy. The French define themselves by their food or as great philosophers. The Germans are efficient. But the British think their single main national defining characteristic is their humour.

To an extent, you can get the feel of a country by watching the type of ads they create. In UK ads, humour often seems more important than products’ qualities.

For sure, any day, I’d rather watch Peter Kay dancing in a Marks & Spencer TV ad than hear about the quality of their beans or sprouts – or look at another badly-drawn bunch of sunflowers by Van Gogh.

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Filed under Ad industry, Books, Comedy, Consumer Affairs, Movies, PR, Television

Shopping in London – now part of California

I have lived too long. I want to go back to the 20th Century.

Yesterday I was in a very very crowded Ugg Boots shop in Long Acre, Covent Garden. There was a queue outside with two assistants shepherding people while, inside, people intertwined with each other in the narrow shop to pay £200 plus for a pair of fairly ordinary-looking, though I’m sure admirably snug, boots.

I am a simple Presbyterian-brought-up wee soul. Bread and water and a cotton vest are enough for me. And underpants in this cold winter weather.

We are just talking boots – most of which should not be worn in the snow for fear of damaging them.

A little later, I was in the shoe department of the John Lewis store in Oxford Street and heard one assistant – sorry, Partner – say to another:

“Are the microwave shoes in Electricals or in Gifts?”

I looked at the second assistant – sorry Partner – trying to spot any look of fear or panic in her face but, no, she answered matter-of-factly:

“Last year they were in Electricals among the hair dryers.”

I then picked up a pair of FitFlop shoes which claimed on a label that they would “help increase leg and bottom muscle activity (up to 30%)” and “help realign ground force reaction closer to your joints”.

I had a feeling I had slipped through a wormhole in space and time and was in California.

Another label attached to the shoes said that, because of their beneficial nature, they might hurt your feet at first so you are not advised to wear them very often after you first bought them.

This sounds to me like buying a car which will get you from A to B quicker but being told you shouldn’t use it very much at first in case you crash.

Apparently FitFlops “absorb more shock than a normal shoe (up to 22%)”.

That’s more than I can absorb.

I want to go back to the 20th Century.

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Filed under Comedy, Consumer Affairs

Virgin Media: are they incapable of sending e-mails because their broadband is so slow?

My Virgin Media saga continues, like an eight mile long sloth crawling through sticky semolina.

Two days ago, someone in Hertfordshire told me they could only get occasional and erratic internet connections via their Virgin Media broadband line and the alleged Customer Service Helplines don’t. That’s what I found too.

Yesterday, someone in Buckinghamshire told me they could not watch 3-minute YouTube videos on what Virgin Media claim is the fastest broadband in Britain – because the broadband is so slow.

Today, Virgin Media phoned me “as a courtesy” about my leaving them and asked me, before continuing with their “courtesy” call, to give them my security details including password. I refused – I told them Virgin Media had told me not to give my security details to unknown callers which is exactly what this person who called me out of the blue was. They told me Virgin Media had never told customers not to give their security details out to callers.

That seems a very interesting approach to security; and maybe my memory is fading like a Virgin Media broadband line.

Even more bizarre, it seems that, in the 21st century, Virgin Media is unable to send e-mails to customers – possibly because their broadband is so slow.

Or perhaps this is all part of some new Jeremy Beadle style TV series.

If only… If only…

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Filed under Comedy, Consumer Affairs