Rogers: boob behind the tube

When I signed a 2-year digital TV contract last July with Rogers, it was following a long and painful price negotiation with their customer service department. Unhappy that they had increased their prices last summer, I argued to get it at the previous price. Plus additional discounts for invoicing screw-ups. Now, 9 months into the contract, this month’s invoice displayed a sudden hike in the amount due. Of course, I called them up immediately.

(Following several minutes of unbearable Muzak)

Me:  Hi. The amount on my invoice is higher than usual, and I’d like to know why.
Rep:  Yes. Rogers has increased the price of some of their programming packages, including the one you’re subscribed to.
Me:  When I signed up, I agreed to a particular price. I’m not interested in, nor do I intend on, paying more.
Rep:  Unfortunately, they’ve decided to increase the price. Rogers is constantly making improvements to the levels of service they offer their clients.

(Play along. Benefit of the doubt.)

Me:  Okay. Can you tell me what these improvements are?
Rep:  Well, um, Rogers is always bringing improvements to existing services, to better serve their clients.
Me:  Yes, I got that part. Can you tell me how this will benefit me, specifically, in my day-to-day experience, when I watch TV?
Rep:  Um, unfortunately I can’t really say… specifically…
Me:  That’s what I thought. Once again, I was already paying more than I’d like for cable, and I have no intention of paying more. So please change my invoice to the price I used to pay.
Rep:  Unfortunately, I can’t change the price of the packages.
Me:  Sure you can. I’ve negotiated with you guys before to get better pricing.
Rep:  Yes, I can see you have discounts on your invoice.
Me:  Yes. So just adjust that so that I don’t pay more. You can call it a credit, or a discount, or whatever label you need to on your end, as long as I don’t see an increase. Look, it’s simple. I know I’m screwed to stay with you for the 2-year duration of the contract. But you have a choice: you can keep me at the increased price and know for a fact that you’re losing a client after the contract, or you can work with me and keep me as a client.


Rep:  Okay, here’s what I can do. We have a promotion right now, on the package you currently have. It’s 20% off for 12 months. But your current discounts will no longer be valid.
Me:  That’s OK, because the 20% off more than compensates for it. (Translation: in the end, I’m still paying less, which is what I wanted)

(Note: Always ALWAYS repeat what you THINK they’re saying, to make sure you’ve understood correctly.)

Me:  So you’re telling me that for 12 months, as of today, I will keep the exact same package I currently have, and I will get it for $X less than I am currently paying.
Rep:  That’s correct.
Me:  Great, let’s do that.

But clearly isn't.

But clearly isn't.

In conclusion:

–  Never, ever accept a random change in service levels or price unless it’s in your favour.
–  Never, ever accept their initial refusal or dismissal. Push back. I’ve never called anywhere without getting something in return, with varying degrees of success.
–  I’m appalled that it would take a client threatening to leave before being offered a better deal. Shouldn’t the better deal be offered automatically, as a thank you for clients’ continued business? Oh wait. That would involve some notion of customer service.
–  I’m still getting my package for less. Again.


From the mouths of babes

We’re pretty careful about what and how much TV our girls watch. Despite this, they absorb information like little sponges. It all started before last Christmas, when our daughters began noticing TV commercials. Then the questions emerged: “Mommy, can you ever buy me that toy?” and “Mommy, can we ever go to Marineland?”

But what surprised me most were some of the other things Olivia started noticing. She was watching cartoons while I was making dinner, when she asked me: “Mommy, would you like a Slap Chop? Because if you do, you have to call in the next 20 minutes.”

Vince Offer & Slap Chop

Vince Offer & Slap Chop

In all fairness, that’s a bad example. Back then, every third commercial featured Offer “Vince” Shlomi (hey, you can’t make this stuff up), A.K.A.  the ShamWow guy, exclaiming “You’re gonna love my nuts!” To this day, I don’t know how that line was allowed to air.

BONUS: Vince Offer Soundboard – perfect for crank calls!

I couldn’t believe Olivia had taken notice of such a random piece of information. I was also partly amused, having worked in marketing since 1997 and being attentive to all forms of advertising ever since I can remember.

I find it utterly fascinating to have slogans recited back to me through the mouth of an innocent child, who doesn’t know any better than to believe the promises she hears. A few nights ago, she was fascinated with the Dollars for Gold ad. For those of you unfamiliar with this amazing service, you stuff any unwanted or broken gold jewelry into an envelope, ship it to the folks over at Dollars for Gold, and wait for your cheque to come in the mail. Seriously.

Tonight, Olivia had two specific new requests, each accompanied by a marketing-induced rationale:

1. Scope Outlast mouthwash. I told her we already had mouthwash. Olivia then explained: “But mommy, this one lasts five times longer!” Never mind the fact that she doesn’t use mouthwash. Or that mouthwash isn’t recommended for young kids because they might ingest it.

2. Pantene shampoo and conditioner. “Can you please, please, buy Pantene next time?” When I asked why, she explained: “They make one for curly hair, one for colour, one for shiny hair.” She actually retained, fairly accurately, their product segmentation. Olivia likes to look good from head to toe. Apparently that includes Pantene Pro-V shiny hair. Diva.

Time for a “Don’t believe everything you see on TV” talk…

Something for Nothing

You know that when I’m not happy about a product or service, I call the provider to fix it. In fact, about 80% of the times I call a provider, I get something in return: a credit on my account, additional services free of charge, etc.

Today, I’ve topped myself. I got something for nothing, when in fact my original premise for calling was wrong.

We recently switched to Rogers Cable. I really wanted Teletoon Retro, a wonderful collection of old-school cartoons from my childhood: Looney Toons, Scooby Doo, Superfriends, the Flintstones and lots more. I love these… I mean, um, my kids love these.

We’d watch Teletoon Retro after we got home, as I made dinner. After a few weeks, the channel stopped coming through. Last week, I called Rogers to explain the problem, and they said they’d look into it and get back to me. Big surprise, they didn’t. I called back and explained the situation to a different rep. I said that since we’d been without this channel for a few weeks, I’d like some sort of compensation. The rep, after some discussion, offered me a handful of additional bundles, free of charge, for two months. He even programmed in the end date, so I don’t have to call and cancel, hence avoiding the probability of my forgetfulness incurring extra charges on my invoice.

A-HA! So they can, in fact, program in end dates to bundles, programming etc. They just prefer to get you to call, hoping you’ll forget so they can charge you. We don’t have to bend over and take it!

I later returned to the Rogers web site, and discovered that I had been wrong – our original bundle didn’t include Teletoon Retro. Those first few weeks had most likely been a free promotional period.

So I got two months of freebies, all because of something I wasn’t meant to have in the first place. Not exactly David and Goliath, but it still makes me all warm and fuzzy inside to think I got something not only for nothing, but due to my own mistake – and ultimately theirs too.

Your Ad Here

We’re being bombarded from all sides on a daily basis. Not by bullets or weapons of mass destruction, but by another arguably evil force: advertising.

I’ve worked in marketing and communications for over a dozen years. What marketers really care about is whatever will make you buy what they’re selling. After all, they’re competing with several similar companies for your attention, and with many more for your hard-earned dollars. So in the name of commercialism and the almighty bottom line, they play on your emotions, tell you they’re the only way of reaching your goals, and shamelessly manipulate you.

We see it everywhere: newspapers, magazines, television, radio, billboards, buses, tailored Google ads, not to mention those annoying expanding ads that come across whatever web page you’re trying to read. Even our Rogers cable guide displays a Tim Hortons ad at the bottom of my screen. And don’t get me started on the clutter of junk mail in both our real and electronic mailboxes. Promise after broken promise:

– Our beer will get you laid, or at the very least surrounded by sexy, scantily clad women (if you’re one of the rich, good-looking studs on the commercial)
– Our insurance plan is the only one that will truly give you peace of mind (if you meet all the hidden criteria)
– Our diet plan guarantees results or your money back (but good luck actually getting a hold of us for a refund)
– Our cell phone network is the most reliable (within city limits, off-peak hours, and in ideal weather conditions)
– Our cars are safest for your family (according to our own privately funded study)
– Our credit card company really cares (until the payment due date)

We’re surrounded by countless commercial messages everywhere we go. Supermarkets are filled with cross-promotional offers: buy this pasta and get a jar of sauce; buy this box of cereal and find a coupon inside for your next purchase. Limit 5 per customer. Incidentally, that’s the magical phrase used to compel you to buy the maximum amount, even if you don’t need it.

Many years back, a new evil emerged. I was at the movie theatre, comfortably awaiting the previews. These are fun because in the limited free time we have, it allows you to quickly categorize upcoming movies into three possible categories: Must-see, Possible Rental, or I’d Rather Watch Paint Dry. But what actually appeared on screen was an ad for Avis rent-a-car and a local radio station.

Wait a minute. I’m paying $13 for a movie ticket (plus grossly overpriced snacks), and I have to sit through commercials? I don’t have much choice when I watch TV, but I’m almost certain this is crossing some sort of fuzzy line.

But what put things into perspective was our recent Air Canada flight to the Dominican Republic. We boarded the plane, a flight that cost us hundreds of dollars each. I started going through the entertainment menu on the little screen in front of me: movies, television shows and more, with previews to ensure I select the right diversion for the next couple of hours. Then I hit Play.

Air Canada in-flight entertainment

Air Canada in-flight entertainment

It’s like finding leftover chocolate and taking a bite, only to discover a moment too late that it was actually bitter, unsweetened baker’s chocolate. I was anticipating the beginning of my selection when I was instead subjected to commercial vomit: I sat through nearly 10 minutes of Air Canada self-promotion, credit card ads and tourism ads telling me where I should fly to next. No way to exit or turn it off. You just have to bend over and take it.

You’d think that forking over the money for a flight would buy me a little commercial-free air time. You’d be wrong. They’re going to milk it for everything they can.

Is there nowhere left we can go, to escape the clutter and the noise?

Reality Check TV

It seems everywhere I go, people are talking about some reality show or another. A particular performance on Dancing with the Stars, who got eliminated on American Idol. As for me, I don’t care for any of it. Oh, I’ve tried a few episodes here and there, but for the most part, I just don’t get the appeal.

I’m not even sure why they call it Reality TV. Reality check: normal people don’t do the things you see on “reality TV”. They don’t eat buffalo testicles after biting through and peeling back a veiny membrane that was holding the “meat” inside. Or climb out of a car suspended a hundred feet in the air. Truth be told, if these events weren’t planned and televised, the contestants would be locked up in a padded cell.

I for one wish they put more effort into good television shows. They provide interesting characters and wacky scenarios, all within the comfort of a fictional setting. Actors are actually told to act this way and make asses of themselves. We tune in because they do so in an entertaining way. If we’re going to sit and watch pathetic people causing scenes, it better be fake. Besides, characters in fiction are better developed and usually much more believable.

The first reality show that comes to mind is Survivor, filled with secret alliances, betrayals and emotional outbursts. It’s almost understandable, given that these people travel to remote, often dangerous places, away from their homes and families, and asked to compete in grueling tasks. But what excuse is there for drama surrounding a show like Dancing with the Stars? Sure, tensions can sometimes build between stars and their professional dancing partners. Then there are the unwanted criticisms from other celebs – most recently Elizabeth Hasselbeck criticized Erin Andrews, who has recently had two stalker scares, for wearing skimpy outfits while dancing.

Face it: you sign up for a reality show, you may as well be wearing a t-shirt that says “Looking for a fight”. If you’re not, someone else always is. Even a reality show contestant should be bright enough to know that. No one put a gun to your head, so suck it up. Although that would make for an interesting show, wouldn’t it? Shotgun Television. You best be learnin’ how to dance real quick.

Then there’s the Bachelor: a handsome young man who will tug at the heartstrings of millions of female viewers with his charming smile and boy-next-door good looks. Young women sign up to woe this man they’ve never met, with whom they may have nothing in common with, but whom they somehow feel could be their soul mate. And yet each of them are absolutely devastated when it turns out not to be true love? Really?

As for the Bachelor: I promise to try real hard to shed a tear for you, as you look crushed by the pressure of having to choose from a roomful of gorgeous women.

Anyone ever watch the original Apprentice? It was interesting to see a group of bright, promising people from all walks of life, vying for a chance at a dream job working for the Trump. Of course things get heated and people get competitive. These are people chosen because they have a particular skill set – from organization to management to salesmanship, with entrepreneurial know-how coursing through their veins. It alls starts off friendly enough. But eventually, the gloves come off, the insults begin, and there’s no hiding their true colours. Anyone else remember Omarosa?

Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth

Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth

I’m not sure I understand the premise behind Celebrity Apprentice, though. So you can act or sing. Big deal. Basically we’re tuning in to watch overblown egos (often unwarranted) collide. Let’s face it, if you’re on Celebrity Apprentice, odds are your agenda’s not over-packed with other work. It’s one more pathetic attempt at airtime, courtesy of Trump Enterprises.

But if all else fails, D-listers can always prey on people’s tendency toward voyeurism and get their own reality TV show. Because there’s nothing more titillating for viewers than being able to follow a has-been’s every move as they go about their day. Right, Denise Richards?

Denise Richards - It's Complicated

Denise Richards - It's Complicated