What’s the deal with those “call within 15 minutes for a free gift” TV offers?

A STAFF REPORT FROM THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD

Dear Straight Dope:

I've been wondering about how those TV commercials that say, "Call in the next 15 minutes and receive another piece of junk absolutely free." How do the telephone operators know if you're calling within the required time frame? Do they assume that you are, or does everyone who calls get the free junk, including callers within the next 15 minutes? Isn't this some sort of false advertising?

Melis replies:

Can we say … incentive? This is to get you to get on the phone, and order on impulse, with the justification that this is a special offer, and not everyone’s going to be getting the entire set/added bonus/widget for the same price–before you have a chance to think about what it is you’d be buying, and what a cheap piece of garbage it might turn out to be.

In general I think it’s safe to say the telephone operators aren’t sitting there with a 15-minute timer, and anyone who calls, regardless of when the commercial was actually aired, gets the same deal. Now, if they used a bait and switch tactic (oh, Mr. Kreese! I’m afraid your call came after the fifteen minute time limit when you ordered the handy-dandy automatic apple-bobber–so you can’t get the free beer bottlecap frame! However, perhaps I could interest you in some genuine cubic zirconium …), that would be false advertising … and it is illegal, to boot.

And usually, in about three months, these things will show up in stores … with the added junk … for either the same price or cheaper. So save your money–patience is a virtue–and remember there won’t be any shipping and handling charge, either.

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.

STAFF REPORTS ARE WRITTEN BY THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD, CECIL'S ONLINE AUXILIARY. THOUGH THE SDSAB DOES ITS BEST, THESE COLUMNS ARE EDITED BY ED ZOTTI, NOT CECIL, SO ACCURACYWISE YOU'D BETTER KEEP YOUR FINGERS CROSSED.

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