Hall of Shame
Every year CHOICE hands out Shonky Awards to manufacturers, service providers, and especially marketers and advertisers. They win the title of Shonky for misleading claims, false advertising, lack of transparency, faulty goods and/or poor service. So, without further ado, please stand back, seek shelter, be alert and alarmed - but don’t panic - because here's a roll call of the crème-de-la-crème of cunning, the standouts of spin, and the deliverers of dodginess since the inception of the Shonky Awards in 2006.
Consumers are sick of paying to pay, with a flood of complaints about credit card and other unavoidable surcharges tacked on to transactions. Cabcharge’s 10% credit card surcharge is one of the highest we’ve seen, and vastly exceeds the cost of providing the service.
And on the topic of ridiculous surcharges, Australia’s ticket-selling duopoly Ticketek and Ticketmaster add on all sorts of additional charges and fees - including one for printing your ticket yourself.
And if you think using your credit card at least offers you some protections, including a ‘chargeback’ (where you get a refund for products and services non-rendered), you may unwittingly waive this particular right with the Jetset Travelworld Group.
Meanwhile, the winner of the Shonkiest Shonky - as voted by members - went to Nature's Way Kids Smart natural medicines. This range of homeopathic ‘remedies’ for children was deemed “an affront to public health and medical science”.
2011 saw a couple of winners from the wonderful world of weight loss. Wait, shonky weight loss products? Who’d have thought?! The big winner was SensaSlim, with the product and company behind it demonstrating shonkiness on many levels.
Peach-infused super-tight pants also got a nod, with their "clinically-proven" weight loss effect. The ethos of the test lab behind the clinical trial, Spincontrol Laboratories, didn’t exactly fill us with confidence: “2 doses of accuracy, 1 dose of creativity and a touch of audacity…”
Meanwhile, talk of a carbon tax saw a flurry of activity among entrepreneurs keen to cash in on community paranoia, whipped up by talkback radio and tabloid media. We awarded a Shonky to the Go4Green EnergySmart plug-in ‘energy-saving’ box – one of many such devices on the market. It claimed you'll save 10% on energy bills and, at a mere $299 a pop, will pay for itself in six months. You didn’t, and it won’t. 2011 also saw the Australian launch of Chinese Chery cars, including the Chery J1 with its 'cosmetic purpose only' roof racks – if you use 'em, you lose 'em.
With the Shonkys now five years old, you’d think most companies would be doing their best to keep their heads low and stick to the straight and narrow. But it sometimes seems they're begging for a lemon gong. 2010 saw Coles introduce its $10 meal recipes, fronted by chef Curtis Stone. However, when we did the maths, it didn’t add up – or at least not to under $10. We calculated Curtis' $7.76 coq au vin would cost $37.74 if you bought all the necessary ingredients – including the integral half-litre of wine, which somehow wasn't included in the $7.76 worth of stuff you have to buy.
If that gives you a pain in the hip pocket, Nurofen probably has targeted pain relief for that, somewhere among its repertoire of different-yet-identical products for migraine, back pain, period pain etc etc.
2009 was the year of the incredible shrinking package sizes, with Cadbury, Nestlé, Sorbent, Uncle Tobys and Smiths among the many brands to shrink the pack but not the price. Disguising the shrinkage with extra packaging fooled no one: we were inundated with correspondence from consumers pretty miffed by the deception.
Maybe instead they should have attempted to blind us with pseudo-science, like all the cosmetic companies with their dizzying names for miracle ingredients proven in so-called clinical trials - which they clarify in the fine print as ‘consumer perception’ studies.
And on the subject of pseudo-science, we loved the Reegen Micro-Plug, which claims to reduce energy consumption by up to 30%. Testing in our government-accredited labs found no such saving, so who did their testing? Why, it was the Rich Rich fried chicken shop in downtown Seoul, and their before and after electricity bills prove beyond doubt this massive saving. Maybe they test cosmetics as well?
Regular award winners – such as the banks, telcos and food ads – have again been joined by a number of products you should stay well clear of, including an iron that seems to make more creases than it irons out, and a body dryer that's hot air in more ways than one. We also gave alcopops a serve, with Vodka Mudshake Original Chocolate winning a Shonky for best disguising its alcohol content in our taste test by 18- and 19-year-olds.
Meanwhile, Glaceau Vitamin Water received an award for cleverly disguising its junk-drink status by including vitamins and fruity sounding names, as well as making a mockery of the food regulations designed to protect consumers from unsubstantiated and potentially misleading health claims.
We took aim at super-expensive super juices, from super fruits like noni, goji, acai and mangosteen, which cost up to $85 a bottle. Claiming to be full of antioxidants, our lab tests found that a serve of juice contains far less than a fresh apple.
We also took exception to the claims of Nutella Hazelnut Spread. “Less fat than most peanut butters, less sugar than most jam” say the ads. Maybe, but equally it contains more sugar than most peanut butters and more fat than jam, and just because it is low GI does not mean it’s healthy.
If you’re up for something really healthy, why not a fun game of frisbee? But probably not with the Play For Fun Flying Ring, which bears the warning, “Do not launch or throw in the direction of other people”. Frustrating? Yes. Fun? Not so much.
Our inaugural Shonky Awards recognised Apple's repair and warranty service, $80 magnetic laundry balls which clean no better than water, a washing machine that was so gentle on clothes it removed barely any dirt, a robot vacuum that simply moved dirt from one part of the room to another, a meat pie with almost no meat, the ‘Purely Fish’ frozen fish meal with only 48% fish, credit cards for the way they calculate interest, a baby dummy that fits entirely inside a baby’s mouth, oxygen you drink rather than breathe, and a gin and tonic pre-mixed drink containing no gin and no tonic. The bar was set high – or should that be low? - for all future nominees for a Shonky.