The awards season may be over for the entertainment industry, but it’s time for consumer protection to take its turn on the red carpet. (Of course, no one should ever have to ask “Who are you wearing?” A quick look at the label and a search in the FTC’s RN Database will provide that information instantly.) If we were giving out the statuettes, here are some of the winners from movies and TV.
Outstanding depiction of a perennial fraud. In Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, Bruce Dern plays Woody, a curmudgeon who receives a sweepstakes entry form that deceptively looks like a check for a million bucks. The movie centers on his futile journey to claim his “prize.” If you have friends or relatives who could be susceptible to a bogus sweepstakes pitch, clue them in to the truth about Prize Offers.
Outstanding performance by an actress addressing a topical advertising issue. And the winner is Hannah Horvath, Lena Dunham’s character on Girls. Hannah is a journalist for a major national magazine – sort of. Truth be told, she writes “sponsored content” for corporate clients. “It looks like a real article,” her friend Ray explains, “but then you find out it’s a paid advertisement.” Let’s hope Hannah attended Blurred Lines, the FTC’s workshop to explore the consumer protection issues surrounding native advertising.
Best depiction of an ad executive. In a shocker, the odds-on favorites – Mad Men’s Don Draper and Darren Stevens of Bewitched – split the vote, allowing an upset win by Miles Drentell, the ad agency owner in the 80s series Thirtysomething. If you’re 30-something now and missed the show, it’s worth a binge-watch if only for Miles’ irridescent suits with shoulder pads the size of a calzone. The inscrutable ad man spoke in epigrams that sounded like haiku with a few extra syllables:
That’s the dance of advertising.
We help people become popular.
Through popularity comes acceptance.
Acceptance leads to assimilation.
Assimilation leads to bliss.
Here’s hoping Miles took note of the FTC’s recent settlement with TWBA Worldwide, which held the ad agency responsible for its role in the allegedly deceptive on-camera demonstration of a Nissan Frontier.
Best reality show reminder to consult FTC compliance resources. This season, one of The Real Housewives of Atlanta is attending mortuary school to fulfill her lifelong dream of opening a funeral home. The FTC brochure Complying with the Funeral Rule should be on her reading list.
Outstanding (OK, only) script reference to 16 C.F.R. § 455. In an episode of CSI: Miami, the detectives find an intriguing clue at a crime scene: a piece of glass with a fragment of a distinctive sticker. Through equal parts forensic science and consumer protection knowledge, they realize it’s a Buyers Guide, which dealers must display on used cars. Putting two and two together, they trace the Vehicle Identification Number to the suspect and solve the crime within the alloted 60 minutes. Lucky for them the dealership had read the FTC's Dealers Guide to the Used Car Rule
The Con Artist Hall of Shame Award. This year American Hustle entered the Pantheon alongside classics like Double Indemnity, The Lady Eve, The Sting, The Grifters, House of Games, and Glengarry Glen Ross. A tip for consumers – and screenwriters looking for inspiration: Consult the FTC’s Scam Alerts for the latest variations on fraudulent themes.
What’s your favorite art-imitates-life depiction of consumer protection in movies or on TV?