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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?



  1. Warner Crocker

    08/18/2010 at 10:35 am

    They don’t bend them. They destroy them.

  2. CBONE

    08/18/2010 at 11:12 am

    That isn’t too bad. In other words The data package isn’t infinite. They just need to spell out a limit. Blame the people trying to shift around a TB worth of data via phone.

    • Xavier Lanier

      08/18/2010 at 11:36 am

      Yes, in other words the data package is ‘limited’ to some undefined. You could call this virtually unlimited, but it’s clearly not unlimited.

  3. aftermath

    08/18/2010 at 12:05 pm

    You mean like calling a touchscreen slate a “tablet”?

    But seriously, it’s not tech companies. The tech companies NEVER call things like that unlimited internally. It’s the marketing people in the company who come up with the idea to sell it that way. Marketing and advertising people are scum of the earth. A famous stand-up comic and satirist used to have a whole shtick against them that profession that I never understood… until I started taking them on as clients.

  4. Kevin N

    08/18/2010 at 1:21 pm

    I wonder how one is supposed to “Go Crazy” and remain reasonable??

  5. Medic

    08/19/2010 at 5:54 am

    I think this kind of advertising is misleading the public and should not be allowed. One could even ask the current legitimacy of this kind of campaign. People in Europe, specifically the Netherlands, are also ever increasingly running into this issue. It is disappointing to read several forums how everyone keeps falling for this kind of advertisement and the subsequent complaints. Recently Vodaphone has even begon to announce upcoming “unlimited dataplans” for 250Mb and 1 Gb. This is sending a wrong message. There is much expectation for increasing mobile communications, but the dataplans are disappointly showing the current poor capacity for data services. A failure of their own success.

  6. Frank

    08/19/2010 at 12:20 pm

    I don’t see such a huge problem in this. I also have an unlimited data plan, 1GB HSDPA+ speed, afterwards the speed gets throttled, still, it’s unlimited, which is true and I appreciate this offer. Better than paying a lot of money per MB after reaching a specific limit.
    The same with this service. It’s unlimited if you use it like you should, browse, watch youtube, … However, if you use it to download movies, software, run torrent clients, … it’s ok to cut the connection, because this was not the intention.
    Still your post is legitimate, because what is ‘unreasonable’. Watching youtube from morning till dawn? They should specify this, so the customer knows what is allowed and what not. So yes, this offer is not legitimate, because the customer does not know what he gets.

    Other ads: It makes me angry sometimes, too, to see such dumb ads which are correct but give a false impression. But if you go in a local store and listen to some ‘expert’ talk then you just hear the same shit. And dumb people, 99% of humankind, believe this. You can’t change this. Only a few people really use their brains.

  7. GTaylor

    08/20/2010 at 8:22 am

    I wish to agree with all of the comments here, and while I do not wish to expand the topic beyond the scope of the phone plans there may be a larger context at work.

    TV shows were at one time called the great educators but my opinion is that the real educators were the ads, the marketers. People have become so accustomed to the marketer’s style of obfuscation and englitteration that anyone who wishes to be presented with clear information is considered obsessive, domineering, or geeky. I am afraid that most of the participants in this blog have been tarred with such accusations.

    This blog, and others of the same high quality, probably function as a support group for the wrongly accused. May I suggest renaming the site “The Bob Newhart Home for All the Last Sane People In the World”?

    • Xavier Lanier

      08/20/2010 at 9:02 am

      We’ll just stick with GBM/GottaBeMobile for now, but nice comment :-)

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