The 2010 Shonky Awards

Once again, we name and shame the shonkiest rip-offs and scams.
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01.The shonkiest products

With the Shonkys now in its fifth year, the contenders for the gongs continue to roll in. While you’d think most companies would be doing their best to keep their heads low and travel the well-worn path of the straight and narrow, it sometimes seems they’re begging for a lemon gong.

The number of companies charging customers for the privilege of paying – when you’re charged for using a credit card, yet no other form of payment is accepted  – seems to be growing. And those mobile phone companies offering ‘capped’ plans where you pay more than the cap have also flown under the Shonky radar (just) – ditto those $50 printers that can cost thousands of dollars to run over a couple of years. So, as they say in the media circus, on with the show!

Read CEO Nick Stace's blog about today's event.

Video: Shonkys 2010 – Award Show Highlights

Highlights from this year's Shonky Awards, where we highlight some of the worst offenders for 2010.

Shonky fornurofen pain in the hip pocket...


Got a headache? Backache? Neck ache? A trip to your pharmacy or supermarket reveals there are specific painkillers for all sorts of pains: back pain, tension headache pain, migraine pain, period pain, osteoarthritis pain, neck pain, little toe pain … Panadol has a few pain-specific products, but Nurofen has more, with a range of caplets for migraine, back, tension headache and period pain. Yet a closer look at the ingredients shows they’re identical from product to product.

So does the back pain version somehow magically go straight to your back – and only your back – as soon as you’ve swallowed it? Could you, say, choose to treat only your back pain while keeping your headache? If you want to treat both, do you need to take a dose of each? The answers are no, no and definitely no. When you take these painkillers, the active ingredient spreads through your whole body, attacking whatever pain it comes across, wherever it is. Filling up your medicine cabinet with different painkillers for every type of pain is unnecessary, not to mention wasteful, should they expire before you’ve used them all. But the shonkiest aspect of this type of marketing is that the fast-acting painkillers labelled for specific pain types are more expensive – costing almost twice as much in some stores we surveyed – than their “all-pain” fast-acting equivalent, Zavance caplets, which contains a comparable fast-acting form of ibuprofen. Our advice? Stick with Zavance – and see your doctor if pain persists. See the video.


Shonky forrope hanging by a thread...


With rock climbing all the rage these days, these colourful braided ropes look very much like proper climbing ropes to many people. However, if one reader’s experience is anything to go by, they’re anything but.

Leo Riters’ nephew bought such a rope to hang from his oak tree for his young sons to climb on. One day it simply snapped, dropping a surprised child a couple of metres. It turns out the braided exterior hides the tissue-like filaments of the interior, which couldn’t really be expected to carry much weight.

There are several brands of this sort of rope, but we’ve given the Shonky to Medalist because it specifically recommends “outdoor recreational use” on its packaging – and what could be more recreational than monkeying around in an old oak tree? See the video.


Shonky forolive_oill being only a little bit virgin...

(Some) olive oil Brands

CHOICE tested 28 brands of extra virgin olive oil this year and found half were not as ... well, virgin, as they should be. The majority of the least chaste came from Italy and Spain, and even supposing they’d left their respective countries with their virtue intact, their cherries had been well and truly popped before they made it into our shopping trolley.

Some manufacturers vigorously defended the goodness of their progeny, presenting all manner of documentation to prove their integrity and ultimately blaming poor storage for the corruption uncovered. But the fact remains that consumers aren’t always getting true extra virgin quality at the point of sale, despite paying a premium.

A voluntary standard is currently being drafted, and while this is a step in the right direction, CHOICE wants “extra virgin” to be regulated under the Food Standards Code, with mandatory requirements that all olive oils labelled “extra virgin” meet basic purity and quality standards for the duration of their expected shelf life, as well as carry a suitable date so that consumers are able to choose the freshest oils.

Unless or until that happens, though, a consumer’s best bet for finding a true virgin is to go for the home-grown oils.


Shonky forwrist_band stronger, bendier, dumber...

Power Balance

With some reluctance, we highlight the inherent shonkiness of the Power Balance bracelet – reluctance, because when Australian Skeptics demonstrated on Today Tonight that it patently didn’t do anything, subsequent sales skyrocketed: apparently any publicity is good publicity after all.

The Power Balance band is basically a rubber band bracelet with a plastic hologram in it. Sorry – a “surgical grade silicone wristband” embedded with a hologram “based on the idea of optimizing the body’s natural energy flow, similar to concepts behind many Eastern philosophies. The hologram is designed to respond to the natural energy field of the body. The Mylar material at the core has been treated with energy waves at specific frequencies…” etc, etc. All this, and backed by a money-back guarantee.

But seriously: “surgical”, “specific frequencies”, “Mylar”, “Eastern philosophies”… What’s not to believe?

We CHOICE sceptics did our own testing under controlled laboratory conditions – after all, you can’t believe everything you see on TV – and verified the Skeptics’ findings. The money-back guarantee, however, did work. The only power this bracelet seems to have, placebo effect notwithstanding, is in tipping its distributor’s bank balance well and truly into the black – they’re reportedly raking it in. So, if a fool and his money are soon parted, there are apparently plenty of fools out there – and they’re all conveniently identified with a rubber band bracelet. If you see one, offer to sell them a bridge.

This just in: the ACCC exposes Power Balance as fake.  



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