Two web sites that read the fine print


On footnoted.org, Michelle Leder reads the fine print in all those SEC filings, focusing on the details that companies try to hide from vigilant eyes. For example, she dug into Carnival Corp's proxy statement and discovered "that Chairman and CEO Micky Arison rang up $343K on his use of the corporate jet last year and that COO Howard Frank spent $321K," up from $215K and $101K last year, respectively. My favorite example of corporate jet-setting is this one on Applebee's former CEO Lloyd Hill.

On 29 occasions from from April 2006 through January 2007, Applebees's corporate aircraft flew into and out of Galveston, Texas, where former CEO Lloyd Hill happens to own a beach house. The nearest Applebees's restaurant is more than 40 miles away. Though Mr. Hill ceased to be CEO in September 2006, company planes continue the Galveston shuttle.

The current record-holder for personal use of the corporate jet is George David, Chairman and CEO of United Technologies (UTX), who spent over $600,000 of his company's money on personal flights. (And check out that $194,099 under "Cash Flexible Perquisite Allowances"! Isn't "cash perquisite" an oxymoron?)

Another web site that reads the fine print is mouseprint*, which looks at the fine print in consumer products. It could be simple things like a gallon can of paint that is less than a gallon and a quart of mayonnaise that is less than a quart. Or it could be pointing out that Scott's 1000-sheet toilet paper, billed as having "improved long-lasting value," is actually 7.5% shorter than the old roll.

Mouseprint* also found lacking the defense of Gorilla Glue against charges of making the unsubstantiated claim that they make "the toughest glue on planet earth." The defense? The claim is "so broad in scope, so general in nature, and so exaggerated in content, that no reasonable consumer would believe it to be a superiority claim."

In other words, "You'd have to be an idiot to believe us!"

Comments (22)
  1. Sergio says:

    Raymond, sorry for asking this in the comments. I searched your blog but cold not find your contact info or the answer to this question. Why can’t we reorder the buttons in the taskbar as we please? Maybe by dragging them around. I have to use Taskbar Shuffle for that.

  2. John says:

    You mean the “wow” might actually NOT start now?

    Ha ha, you’re so funny. -Raymond]
  3. Rick C says:

    Sergio, you must not have looked very hard, because there’s a "Contact Me" link on the right, in the "Basics" box.

    If Raymond didn’t actually write that code, there’s no reason to believe he can answer that particular question.  It’d make a lot more sense for you to look for a shell blog.

  4. Rick C says:

    Sergio, you must not have looked very hard, because there’s a "Contact Me" link on the right, in the "Basics" box.

    If Raymond didn’t actually write that code, there’s no reason to believe he can answer that particular question.  It’d make a lot more sense for you to look for a shell blog.

  5. George Jansen says:

    It seems to me that back in the ’60s, maybe even ’50s, Mad Magazine ran an article on the downsizing of the nickel Hersheys Bar. Thay may well have been the first introduction of many a kid to investigative journalism

  6. dislyxec says:

    Is "toughest glue" a verifiable claim? i.e. is "tough" a verifiable quality pertaining to glue? In my mind, it’s similar to all those commercials saying we’re the "number 1 blah blah blah". Number 1 in what?  

  7. Mike Swaim says:

    IIRC, the "we’re number 1" thing legally means that there’s no effective difference between most of the commercial products, and they’re tied for number 1.

  8. John says:

    To be fair to Sergio, it looks like the contact form was disabled due to spam.

    I guess maybe this also applies to those irritating Axe Body Spray commercials.  You’ve got to be a complete idiot to believe the insinuations they make.  I suppose that technically they never state any claims, so they are probably off the hook from a legal point of view.  I do wonder if any women are offended by them, though.

  9. BryanK says:

    "Nobody’s painkiller drugs work better than ours!"

    Yeah, that’s because your painkiller drugs and everyone else’s all work just as well as each other — i.e. not at all (at least, not for me).

    Duh…  ;-)

  10. cmov says:

    @John: Guess what, the 64 bit edition isn’t twice as good, it’s half the driver support.

  11. DWalker59 says:

    Right, BryanK, I hear that claim that "no pain reliever is better on tough headaches" and such all the time.  They are all equally good.

    Some of them are cheaper, though!  Such as the generic aspirin/acetaminophen/ibuprofen/whatever,  that is probably made in one of the same factories that the brand-name painkillers are made in, but the companies don’t have to pay for TV ads.

  12. DWalker59 says:

    Bryank:  There are lots of kinds of pain killers now — besides the Tylenol type, there’s the Ibuprofen type (Advil/Motrin), and there’s Ketoprofen that many people haven’t heard of.  There are several others also.

    Tylenol doesn’t do anything for me.  Luckily, ibuprofen does.

    Sorry to hijack the blog for this!

  13. Sergio:  The feature is not there so as to keep from over complicating the UI.  The average user has enough trouble with the task bar as it is, if they held their mouse button down and stuff starting moving, it would make life even more complicated!

    Honestly, the need for that feature is quite rare.  I myself use TaskbarShuffle because I do indeed have enough applications open that being able to sort them into little mini-categories is nice, but for most other users, it is not a concern.

    An interface that exposes every possible option is not an interface you want to use for too long.  Of course, you can always go over to Linux and KDE, where everything is configurable! :)  KDE is also a UI mess, every program has pages and pages of options for configuring every aspect of its UI.

    Of course, Windows does leave the ability open to third parties utilities to enable additional functionality, and anyone who wants to do something like rearrange taskbar items will soon find out how!

  14. MSDNArchive says:

    From the mayo article:

    "At Unilever Bestfoods we have always taken great pride in offering the highest quality products at reasonable and fair prices."

    This is a synonym for "in order to serve you better"

  15. Bob says:

    Number one is the ultimate in defenseable claims.  You suggest to the consumer that your product is the best but when that lands you in court you can state to the judge that you were equating your product with p*ss.

    "Your honor, our product is substandard, p*ss poor if you will.  It always has been, it always will be, as we can’t turn a profit if we improve the quality.  Rather than promote our product with fraudulent or dubious claims however, we’ve chosen to embrace the open and honest policy of describing the product quality accurately and letting the market decide its worth.  Each and every commercial and advertisement we’ve ran has clearly equated the product’s quality with p*ss.  Unfortunately, the FCC, other censoring agencies, and marketing partners don’t allow use of the word p*ss in their ads.  That’s forced us to use the common alternative description "number 1."  If anyone should be held liable for any consumer confusion it’s these outside agencies."

  16. Anon says:

    "Isn’t "cash perquisite" an oxymoron"

    Not necessarily.

    http://dictionary.reference.com/wordoftheday/archive/2003/07/26.html

    perquisite PUR-kwuh-zit, noun:

    1. A profit or benefit in addition to a salary or wages.
    2. Broadly: The benefits of a position or office.

    3. A gratuity or tip for services performed.

    4. Anything to which someone has or claims the sole right.

    I think the term is designed to hide what’s going from shareholders. If you report stuff like this in a way that most people won’t understand you have less chance of ending up like a recent right wing newspaper tycoon. Not sure if I can name him here, but he was busted for using money from of ‘his’ company for personal reasons by the other shareholders.

  17. I used to live near the headquarters of Gorilla Glue so I found this item on the site mouseprint.org very interesting (apparently this site exists to pore over product’s fine print: No one wants a weak glue. So it is a good thing we can buy Gorilla Glue

  18. Rob says:

    Actually, lots of people want a weak glue (at least one that’s weak relative to the majority of others), otherwise, who’d want Post-it notes? ;)

  19. buzz says:

    Εκεί που οι εταιρίες κρύβουν σκελετούς. Και κάποια καλά παιδιά τους ανακαλύπτουν.

  20. Rick C says:

    Anon:  ah, but look at the actual definitions page, not the WotD one:

    1. an incidental payment, benefit, privilege, or advantage over and above regular income, salary, or wages: <i>Among the president’s perquisites were free use of a company car and paid membership in a country club. </i>

    The example implies, altho it doesn’t state, non-cash.

  21. Mark C says:

    There was a similar case to the Gorilla Glue one in Holland in 2004.

    link:  http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/3652599.stm

    The Judge ruled that BOTH Gillette and Wilkinson Sword could claim to be the best razor you could get as he didn’t think anyone would believe the claims anyway.

  22. brian says:

    OFF topic:

    "Guess what, the 64 bit edition isn’t twice as good, it’s half the driver support."

    That is a million times as good as far as i’m concerned.  I means that if i dont find a 64 vista driver for device x, i wont buy it.  If the company hasn’t bothered to put thier drivers through cert, they must not care enough about the product for me to use it.

    If a hardware/software company hasn’t paid attention to the new driver model that has been comming for an eon.  DON’T USE THIER JUNK!

    John:  The wow doesn’t start now.  It starts a while after x-mass when WPF apps start hitting the shelves.

Comments are closed.