Tech Companies Bend Definitions

It’s no secret that advertisements are designed to put products in the best light possible, but sometimes the copywriters take things a little too far. I was watching TV last night when a Virgin mobile ad ran, offering unlimited web and email and ‘hundreds’ of voice minutes for $25. Sounds like a pretty good deal, especially since Virgin is a VMNO that uses Sprint’s network. Blackberry service is only $10 more.

This morning I visited Virgin Mobile’s web site to learn more about the deal. On the site’s home page is a huge graphic The big print, next to an attractive girl that can text and chew bubblegum at the same time, reads “Unlimited Messaging, Email, Data, & Web on All Plans. Don’t Be Stupid Go Crazy.”

Clicking through to the plans’ details page shows some pretty attractive all-in-one plans.


And that’s when I ran into an asterisk, that all too familiar small print that negates whatever was advertised widely (in big print). On the bottom of the page read in small print, that’s intentionally lighter in color, reads:

Unlimited does not mean unreasonable use.

While there are explanations for what happens if you go over your allotted talk time (10 cents/min), there’s no further explanation of what constitutes unreasonable SMS or 3G usage. It’s contradictory to put invisible limits on an unlimited plan.

Not that long ago, 3G data cards were sold with unlimited data plans, with fine print that unlimited means 5GB. Best Buy and other retailers have since cleaned up this practice. Many PC companies advertise ‘up to’ battery life claims that can only be achieved under optimal conditions with a specific configuration, but once they have that ‘up to 7 hour of battery…’ claim, they go and slap it on the entire series of notebooks. ISPs do the same thing, offering ‘up to 50 mbps,’ but consumers only see a fraction of that bandwidth. TV manufacturers are bending the rules a but too, offering “42-inch class” HDTVs that really measure a hair over 41-inches diagonally.

Does this kind of marketing bother you? What are your least-favorite definition benders?