The dozens of email spam messages I receive each day, promising a longer this and a harder that, seem to be spilling over onto the radio waves.
If you listen to VOCM, as thousands of us do, you must have heard the ads for Hero Tabs. They promise to cure erectile dysfunction, using an all-natural remedy (no drugs, like Viagra or Cialis). The ad says you are guaranteed to "rise to the occasion" or you get your money back, and they invite you to call a 1-800 number for a sample that is "absolutely free."
For any man wanting to put some extra lead in his pencil, this must be a pretty compelling pitch. And the free sample just may be the clincher that gets them reaching for the phone.
But hold on a second. Don't dial yet. I received a tip from a reader, who advised me that the sample is not free at all. I decided to call the 1-800 number to find out for myself.
I expected the call to be handled by a politely professional operator, who would require nothing more than my name and address (and perhaps Visa number). Discrete, reassuring treatment is what you expect from a company marketing sexual health products.
Was I ever in for a surprise. Not only is there a charge for the order, the sales pitch was possibly the most aggressive and abusive treatment I've ever received from a salesperson.
Don't take my word for it. I recorded the conversation. Read the following transcript and see for yourself. My comments are shown in boldface.
The call begins, Joe' asks for my first name, I tell him, and express interest in the free sample. He asks where I'm calling from, and then asks about the weather. He asks if I've tried the product before, I say no, and he asks what I hope to get out of it.
"Do you want to perform like you were as a younger man, or to last longer?"
"I guess all of the above."
"How old are you now?"
(I tell him.)
"Obviously things are a little different from when you were 21, right?"
"If we can have you perform like that, then it's a good job, right? You're gonna love it. Our stuff works. It literally works the first time you take it, every time you take it, guaranteed. You notice results in as little as an hour, actually half an hour, and those results last up to 24 hours, probably more than that.
"And is there a money back guarantee?"
"Oh yes, on the full product, no matter what you buy. We do have quite a few different packages for you to choose from, but our goal obviously is to give you the best sex you've ever had. If we don't pick up on that goal you get your money back."
Joe asks for my name and phone number, then starts to tell me about different packages they have to choose from. I explain that I just wanted the free sample, and he says this:
"Well, the sample is just two capsules (one dose). Do you have a loved one now?"
"How long have you been with this person?"
"Why do you ask me that?"
"Well, you can understand why. Let's say you've been with this person for a while. Let's say 20 years, Geoff. Obviously as far as performance goes, things were much different 20 years ago. (If) this person notices that you perform like you did when you were younger, they're going to love it. You're going to love it and you're going to have the best sex you've ever had. You're going to always want some on hand. That is why we'll let you try it out risk free today. You can either go with the sample or start with our three month supply for $139.90. Buy three and actually get two for free, for $209.85. So obviously, you buy more you're going to save more. They're all backed by the same guarantee. What's your postal code up there in Newfoundland?"
"My postal code is --- but I am afraid I'm just interested in the sample for now."
"Yeah that's fine. What is your address?"
I tell him.
"You need to cover the shipping and handling at $9.95. You can use a credit card or debit card to cover."
"How much? $9.95?"
"Yes, only 9.95. Ten bucks to have the best sex that you have ever had."
"Ummm isn't that what it costs for one dose of Viagra?"
"No, that would be like 18 bucks. You're getting two capsules, so you're paying five dollars per capsule. Plus, this is all natural with no known side effects. Now your spouse is she or he worth spending $9.95?"
"Yes, of course, but the radio ad said absolutely free."
"Well, it is free samples. It says Call now for your free samples.' If you don't want to spend ten bucks to satisfy your loved one, then maybe your sex life is not important to you."
"The postage though shouldn't be that high."
"Well, I'm in the state of Maine, (raising voice) you're in the state of Newfoundland! Away up north. It's probably going to cost more than $10 to ship it to you, but we don't care. (pause) I'm not going to argue with you to spend ten bucks to satisfy your loved one. I'm not trying to belittle you either, sir. I'm sure you can understand where I'm coming from. This product does work. It gives fantastic results. You have to understand, you are getting a sample but you do have to pay shipping and handling. And unfortunately in life, that happens with everything. But if you try our product out and you perform like you were when you were a young man again, well it's more than worth it especially for only 10 dollars."
"No, I think I will pass for tonight, and think about it."
"You're going to, okay, you're going to think about spending 10 bucks to satisfy him or her?"
"When is the last time you heard them go Oooooo'. It's probably been a while since they went Oooooo,' right? And is making them go Oooooo' worth 10 bucks? If you are able to satisfy them and I am not trying to belittle you but if you are able to satisfy them, chances are you wouldn't think you have a problem, and you wouldn't be calling me, right?"
"If you were able to please a loved one, then you probably don't have a problem. But chances are, well, you're on the receiver so"
"But it doesn't cost 10 dollars to ship to Newfoundland"
"(Raising voice) It DOES cost 10 bucks. Okay, it probably costs, like, seven dollars and 35 cents. We're making a couple of bucks off you. All your pride, Mr. Meeker! Try to have the best sex you've ever had!"
"Right. Anyway, I have to get going. Do you have an extension I can call, if I call back?"
"Whoever you speak to. Don't think Well, you can't think that hard. Call us back when you're ready to go, we'll try to help you out, okay?"
Did I mention that Joe was probably the most irritating person I have ever spoken with?
It brings an entirely new meaning to the term hard sell'.
There are so many things wrong with the exchange, I don't know where to start.
First, he was wrong to say shipping costs $7.35. Two capsules, wrapped in a small cardboard sleeve and shipped in a No. 10 envelope, could be mailed first class to California for $1.92, plus tax. (I know, because I prepared such a package and checked it at the post office.) I don't know what it costs to ship from there to here, but I assume it's comparable.
It's not uncommon to use shipping and handling as a way of grabbing hidden revenue. Columbia House did it for years, charging much more than actual postage to sell us CDs at three for the price of one'.
But to claim that two capsules are absolutely free', then charge $10 to mail them, is dishonest. Plain and simple. However, I don't think there is a law against it. Shipping and handling charges are not illegal. It's a case of buyer beware.
Incidentally, Joe was deploying the old sales tactic of upselling', trying to push me into a purchase larger than I had intended to make. This is not unique to telemarketers, believe me you see it everywhere.
I have a bigger problem with Joe's condescending and abusive tactics, twice saying he didn't want to "belittle" me, then proceeding to do just that. It was despicable, but, again, I don't think despicable' is against the law.
I can only imagine how terrible this experience must be for someone who is suffering from sexual dysfunction. It would be difficult for a such a person, self-esteem already at an ebb, to withstand verbal abuse like that. It makes me sick to think about it.
Do I fault VOCM for airing these ads? Not really. The people at Hero Tabs are not doing anything illegal, even if it is obnoxious. However, it would look good on VOCM if they let the company know they expect a higher standard of behavior from their advertisers.
I have no way of knowing if Hero Tabs actually work, but here's the bottom line for me: any company that treats its customers like that is ethically deficient, doesn't deserve your business, and is almost certainly trying to sell you a piece of crap.
If you are a user of Hero Tabs, I'd like to hear your feedback in the comments section. Do the products work, as promised? Was your experience with their sales person any better than mine? I will allow anonymous comments on this subject, for obvious reasons.