The 2008 CHOICE Shonky Awards

Who takes home our most coveted yearly awards?
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  • Updated:13 Sep 2008

01 .Drum roll please

2008 Shonkys

It’s been another really good year for the CHOICE Shonky Awards, with manufacturers, service providers and especially the marketing and advertising industry providing a fine list of nominations.

Regular award winners, such as the banks, telcos and food advertising, have again been joined by a number of products you should stay well clear of – plus a fine example of "greenwash". This area promises to provide an increasing number of future winners, unless our campaign to establish some honesty around environmental claims is successful.

But without further ado, please stand back, seek shelter, be alarmed but don’t panic, because here’s this year’s crème-de-la-crème of cunning, the standouts of spin, the deliverers of dodginess – the 10 deserving winners of the CHOICE Shonkys for 2008.


Video: 2008 Shonky Awards

The Chaser's Andrew Hansen helps present the Shonky Awards for 2008.

 And the winners are

The CHOICE Shonky for:
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Muddled disguise Vodka Mudshake Original Chocolate
Warranty, Schmarranty Equititrust capital warranty
Last Banks Standing Adelaide Bank and HSBC
Get Real – Bullshit (h2o+sugar+hype) Glaceau Vitamin Water
Egg On Your Face Australian Egg Corporation
Just Too Much Hot Air Airobe Luxury Body Dryer
Betrayed Love You’ll Love Coles Steam Iron
Premium Rip-off* Premium Mobile Services Industry
Customer Care Excellence Citibank
Storm In A Teacup Hurricane Planet Green

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The CHOICE Shonky for Muddled Disguise

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Vodka Mudshake Original Chocolate

Vodka MudshakeDrinking alcohol is an undeniable part of Australian social life. While the legal age for buying alcohol is 18, underage drinking is a big issue. Let’s target an opportunity, thought parts of the alcohol industry, and create and market drinks that combine sweet flavours, bright colours, trendy names and packaging with alcohol – and alcopops were born.

They’ve become the most commonly consumed form of alcohol among 12- to 17-year-old girls, and the drink of choice for underage binge drinkers. When CHOICE conducted a blind taste test with 78 teenagers aged 18 and 19, they all recognised alcohol in beer and wine. But only about two thirds overall thought the alcopops contained alcohol, and only about half of the males detected it in the Vodka Mudshake Original Chocolate.

Disguising 4% alcohol in a drink that looks and tastes like a milkshake? We think that’s really shonky.

The CHOICE Shonky for Warranty, Schmarranty

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Equititrust capital warranty

Model house - Equititrust“Earn 9.5% pa warranted,” the ad says. “You wouldn’t buy a telly without a warranty … so why would you invest without one,” the ad says. Don’t trust an investment offer that sounds too good to be true, CHOICE says. We guarantee that warranty is shonky.

Equititrust is a mortgage trust offering interest rates a bit above what you can get for bank deposits with similar terms. It uses the investors’ money for developer and other property loans. The marketing is centred around its supposed safety, but the $10 million the company has set aside for its “capital warranty” covers only about 2.4% of the mortgage trust’s value.

Now, most consumers understand warranties (such as for a toaster) to involve the replacement of the entire product should it prove defective. But there’s no such promise for this investment.

What’s more, the product disclosure statement quite clearly details the higher risks of investing in Equititrust compared with banks: for example, it’s not as strict as banks when assessing the borrowers’ capacity to repay their loans and accepts higher risks, and some loans are secured by developments that have yet to be built.

So despite advertising a warranty, Equititrust itself admits that “there can be no guarantee of a return of capital or income”. As we said: why would you?

The CHOICE Shonky for Last Banks Standing

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Adelaide Bank and HSBC

HSBC - piggy bank floating face down in waterLast year, Westpac accepted a Shonky on behalf of the Big Four banks for unfair penalty fees. Most banks have since reduced or dropped a number of those fees, at least on some accounts.

However, Adelaide Bank and HSBC continue to soldier on with a fee that’s particularly unfair and difficult to justify – the inwards cheque dishonour fee. If you deposit a cheque into your regular transaction account with these banks and it bounces, you’ll be charged $12 and $5, respectively.

A popular defence the banks use for charging penalty fees is that consumers can avoid them by keeping track of their spending, regularly checking account balances, and so on. However, there’s no way you can avoid a third party doing the wrong thing and not honouring a cheque they wrote to you.

Charging these fees is just shonky, and CHOICE urges Adelaide Bank and HSBC to drop them on all accounts.


The CHOICE Shonky for Get Real – Bullshit (h2o+sugar+hype)

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Glaceau Vitamin Water

Red Vitamin water bottleHey, where do we start? This range of “nutrient enhanced water beverages” by Coca-Cola Amatil Australia is so shonky on so many levels that we could award each individually. With names like essential – orange-orange (c+calcium) or revive – fruit punch (c+b3+b5+b6+b12) and fruity colours, you’d be forgiven for thinking these drinks are healthy, or contain fruit juice. Which they’re not. And which they don’t.

Apart from the fact we think some of the marketing messages suggesting health benefits are in breach of food regulations, one bottle contains about a third of the recommended daily sugar intake for an average adult woman – hardly healthy. And none contains more than 1% fruit juice. What they do contain is flavouring, but you find that only in the fine print.

Then there’s this message on one flavour: “Legally, we are prohibited from making exaggerated claims about the potency of the nutrients in this bottle.” Followed by a number of exaggerated claims about the potency of the nutrients in the bottle.

We here at the Shonkys recognise humour when it slaps us in the face. But blatantly mocking food regulations designed to protect consumers from unsubstantiated and potentially misleading health claims? That’s not funny – that’s shonky.

The CHOICE Shonky for Egg On Your Face

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Australian Egg Corporation

EggsIf you’re concerned about animal welfare, you may have been buying free-range eggs in the hope they come from more cheerful chooks than their cramped cage cousins. After all, some of the cartons show happy hens roaming in lush, green paddocks. But don’t be fooled. The term “free-range” has no legal definition in Australia, found a CHOICE report.

There are voluntary standards, such as FREPAA’s, the Free Range Egg and Poultry Association of Australia. However, the vast majority of free-range eggs are certified by the Australian Egg Corporation, the national industry body representing about 90% of producers. Conveniently, its Egg Corp Assured scheme has a more relaxed definition of free-range than the voluntary standards, making it easier for members to use the free-range label and access the shopping dollar from concerned consumers.

Even true free-range chooks spend more time in a shed than outdoors. But while FREPAA restricts the number of hens to seven per square metre of shed area, Egg Corp Assured allows 14 – not much less than the 18 /m² in cage systems. Unlike FREPAA, Egg Corp allows beak trimming and shed sizes on a scale that means many chooks will never find their way outdoors.

CHOICE thinks there’s an urgent need for a clear national definition of free-range, and tighter regulation, rather than continued reliance on a shonky industry scheme.

Video: NutriZero

A parody advert for 'vitamin-enhanced' waters.

The CHOICE Shonky for Just Too Much Hot Air

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Airobe Luxury Body Dryer

Airobe body dryerImagine a device that lets you dry yourself “in minutes” after a shower. But wait – you’re saying you already have one? No, we don’t mean a towel. We’re talking about the Airobe Luxury Body Dryer – a 9kW heater and fan installed in the bathroom ceiling (think really big hair dryer) that creates an “envelope of rapidly moving warm air” in which you can immerse your wet body. And don’t forget to take the remote control with you, so you can switch between full and half-blast.

This is no April Fool’s Day gag; it’s real, and it can be yours for $995, plus about $350 installation. But it gets better; according to the marketing material the Airobe is in fact a money-saving green product, because you won’t have to wash any more towels. The creative calculations used to prove this assume two washes of towels only per week (none if you have an Airobe), the use of a tumble dryer and include fixed water supply fees.

Even using those figures, the break-even time for an Airobe is about 10 years. Without deducting the water supply fee (after all, you may still want to use water for other purposes), it will take 20 years. And if you use a clothesline instead of a dryer, the Airobe uses a lot more energy than you do washing towels – part of which is about 10W of standby energy it draws all day, every day.

We could go on. But for us that’s enough hot air already to deserve a Shonky.

The CHOICE Shonky for Betrayed Love

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You’ll Love Coles Steam Iron

IronYou may fall in love with this iron on your first date for its relatively cheap price ($33) and the hot guy on the box talking about his ironing experiences. So you take it home and give it some water (which it sometimes leaks, but you don’t mind because it’s just water) and one thing leads to another, and before you know it it’s all over your shirt, and doing your jeans, and even touching your finest synthetics. And that’s when you realise it doesn’t love you back! Not one bit.

There isn’t the sensual glide you were hoping for – it rudely sticks to and roughly drags over your clothing as if it’s always too hot or too cold. And does it fulfil your deepest desire to remove life’s wrinkles and creases from the fabric of your fabrics? No, it doesn’t. When you ask it to, it just laughs in your face and grabs the fabric and creates additional creases instead.

The You’ll Love Coles steam iron is the most hated iron we sent on dates with our trialists this millennium, with an overall score of just 19%. To avoid a broken heart, we suggest you search for love elsewhere.

The CHOICE Shonky for Premium Rip-off*

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Premium Mobile Services Industry

Mobile phoneThis one’s for all you faceless companies who deliberately trick consumers (including kids) into costly content or even subscriptions they never wanted. The Telecommunications Ombudsman receives more than 2000 complaints a month about mobile premium services – ringtones, games, horoscopes, chat services, age-restricted and other content you can access by calling numbers starting with 19.

However, the fine print* usually reveals that these messages can cost several dollars a pop, or that by accessing one you’re automatically signed up for a subscription, and may be sent further unsolicited messages at additional charges.

Unsubscribing, or contacting the provider is often very difficult, with recorded messages and auto-reply emails instead of customer service. Children and teens are prolific users of these services, and have been signed up for subscriptions costing hundreds of dollars, or been exposed to inappropriate content.

That’s why an honourable mention goes to the telco industry association, the Communications Alliance for failing to set up proper consumer protection. While there’s a code of practice, the number of complaints shows it’s not working – a very shonky case of industry self-regulation.

* Individual Shonkys are provided with maximum outrage. Accepting this Award constitutes a subscription to all future Shonky Awards.

The CHOICE Shonky for Customer Care Excellence

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Citibank pig riding carWe love the banks. They’re so creative in taking consumers for a ride – we couldn’t make up half the stuff if we tried. Take this one. If you have a Citibank credit card, you’ll get a maximum of 55 interest-free days – to start with. If you then refuse to reward the bank by paying interest on your purchases, but pay off your credit card bill in full by the due date for 10 out of 12 months, Citibank reduces the maximum interest-free period to 44 days.

They penalise you for paying them in full and on time. Having fewer days to pay will make it more likely that some customers will then struggle to pay on time – and be subjected to Citibank’s late payment fee of $40, one of the highest on the market.

It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so sad. Customer care? More a case of: customers – who cares?

The CHOICE Shonky for Storm In A Teacup

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Hurricane Planet Green

Hurricane Planet Green multipurpose cleanerThe environment is hot, and not only because of the changing climate – it’s a hot topic. Consumer awareness of green issues has increased, and products can get a marketing edge by being greener than others – or being perceived as greener.

Enter greenwash, the art of making vague, irrelevant or unsubstantiated environmental claims. One of the finest examples we found was this Colgate-Palmolive multipurpose cleaner. There’s not only the bold name. Under “Caring for our environment”, the label lists the product’s green credentials:

  • Phosphate-free
  • Biodegradable
  • Recyclable packaging
  • Australian made

We say: Irrelevant  False impression  Why?

  • Phosphates aren’t a common ingredient in multipurpose cleaners.
  • The biodegradability relates only to the cleaning agents, not the whole product – which is no different from a range of cleaners and not as good as some.
  • While the Hurricane’s bottle is recyclable, its trigger isn’t. There are other cleaners whose bottle and trigger head are recyclable.
  • Being Australian-made is no indicator of a product’s green performance.

Bottom line: Hurricane doesn’t green the planet as its name and claims try to make you believe. If you want a really green cleaner, there are better options on the shelf. 

Video: The Blow Me! body dryer

A parody advert for the Blow Me! body dryer from the Hot Air Corporation.

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