Is It Really A Deal?

Free? Save? Rebate? How About Some Plain Talk?

A weekly commentary by CBS News Correspondent Andy Rooney. It was first broadcast on Feb. 15, 2004.
I wish businesses would be more honest with us when they're trying to sell us something. They have too many devious little ways of making it sound as if something costs less than it does.

They even pretend something doesn't cost anything. They use the word "FREE" all the time.

In one ad, the thing you wouldn't mind having is free if you buy $450 dollars worth of something you don't want.

The other word they use a lot is "SAVE."

"SAVE $2.00" "SAVE $5.00" "SAVE $50 to $200."

The Bloomingdale's catalog reads as if you could get rich saving money by buying things there. "SAVE 50 percent" on a fur coat. "SAVE 50 percent" on a $949 crucifix. I don't know about that. I think a person should pay what a cross is worth.

"SAVE 40 percent to 50 percent" on booties. Sure, then try to save yourself from being crippled for life, walking in these things that bear no resemblance to the shape of your foot.

Sometimes the price is "STARTING AT." A Dodge Durango ad says, "starting at $26,565." Well, that isn't what we want to know, Dodge Durango Wheeler Dealer. Never mind what it starts at. What does it finish at? That's what we want to know.

The other word for "STARTING AT" is "FROM" like "FROM $249," "FROM $449." They don't say what it goes "TO."

The word "OFF" is also a favorite. "SAVE UP TO $10,000 OFF." They don't tell you off what?

You can't buy a used car anymore, of course. All they have left in the used car lots are "PRE-OWNED VEHICLES." The favorite sales gimmick for cars is the rebate. They offer a $5,000 rebate in one ad, and a $3,000 rebate in another.

Instead of "REBATE," some of them say "CASH BACK!"

Another ad offers "INSTANT IN-STORE REBATES." I never understood how rebates work. You give them the money and they give you some of it back? Why don't they just charge less so you wouldn't give them so much in the first place?

The disturbing thing about all this deceptive advertising isn't that they treat us as though we were idiots. The disturbing thing is that we may be idiots.

By Andy Rooney