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The top 10 Shonky “winners”

Thursday, 27 October 2011 | By Oliver Milman

Since their inception in 2006, Choice’s Shonky Awards have become the one prize that every Australian business doesn’t want to receive.


The consumer group’s awards pick out the most faulty and dishonest products or services of the past year.


Being awarded a Shonky is something that a small business cannot afford to simply brush under the carpet. The unveiling of the 2011 hall of shame this week generated widespread media headlines.


The power of the Shonky Awards was underlined by the revelation by Choice that major brands approach it to lobby for their non-inclusion, terrified of the PR fall-out.


We’ve picked out 10 of the worst Shonkys since 2006 and outlined what start-ups can learn from these business’ slip-ups.


Bling baby dummy1. Blinged-up baby dummies


It feels like every other business idea at the moment relates to young children and babies. Clothing, entertainment, even yoga.


One business has taken things a little too far, however, by selling baby dummies encrusted with “genuine Swarovski crystals”.


Choice tested the products and found that the crystals are easily removed by the champing maws of infants. Choking babies to death isn’t a great look for any product.

The ACCC duly banned them, although you can still buy them online.


2. Nurofen


Expanding your range beyond a single product is a good business strategy, as Tom Griffith from juice brand Emma & Tom’s explained to us recently.


Creating something “new” is a marketing trick as old as the hills. It creates anticipation and intrigue in the consumer and can open your brand up to a new demographic.

Beware packaging the same products under different names and ascribing them varying values, however.


Choice hauled Nurofen over the coals for its range of specific painkillers for migraine, back pain, tension headache and so on, despite the product being essentially the same.


You may be able to charge a premium price under this trick, but don’t expect to get away with it for long.


Power Balance3. Power Balance


Even worse than dressing up the same product in different clothes is to have a product that doesn’t work at all.


The Power Balance band caused a minor media storm last year for its claims that its hologram was adept at “optimising the body’s natural energy flow, similar to concepts behind many Eastern philosophies. The hologram is designed to respond to the natural energy field of the body.”


Alas, the bracelet turned out to be little more than a rubber band with a plastic hologram on it. The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission subsequently exposed the product as a fake.


4. Babynamemeans.com


Businesses as large as News Corp are grappling with the concept of paywalls for content, but one rule is pretty clear – you need to let consumers know what they are paying for.


A school student who was researching the origins of names registered to use Babynamemeans.com, only to be invoiced by a debt collection agency for a $144 “subscription”.


Buried deep within the registration agreement text was the small detail that access to the site costed $12 per month, for the minimum of a year.

You may argue that the consumer should read the small print first. But if you are thinking of a similar scheme, be prepared for the ACCC to disagree with you.


5. Commonwealth Bank Awards program


Rewards programs are a tried and tested way to engender loyalty among customers. Throw in some warm small business service and you have a good chance of keeping your customers from the clutches of larger rivals.


But customers need to feel an actual reward from a rewards program. The clue is in the name.


Choice gave a Shonky to Commbank for its scheme, which offered just $20 in flights as a “reward” for spending $12,000 per annum on its credit card. Even then, this is just on Amex, with the value even lower for Visa and Mastercard.


Rewards don’t have to bankrupt you. But you need to offer something tangible to keep customers coming back. How about an event with free food and drinks that will create an invaluable bond with your customer?

6. L’Oréal Elvive

Some products have made an art form of making themselves look backed up by scientific research, only to be nothing of the sort.


A Shonky was given to the Elvive range for claiming to give users hair that is “four times smoother and sleeker”. This was compared with just one product: plain shampoo.


Putting asterisks next to these claims with disclaimers such as “consumer perception study” won’t save you from derision.


Luxury Body Dryer7. Airobe Luxury Body Dryer


Hopefully, your start-up will either save your target market time and/or money. Either that or it is a premium offering that provides consumers with a vast improvement on what they already have.


Getting the two strategies mixed up can be dangerous. The Airobe Luxury Body Dryer is a heater and fan installed in the bathroom that fires warm air at you after you have finished showering.


For a mere $995, with a $350 installation fee, you can save money on washing towels, claim the manufacturers. Except that it would take 20 years to do so, based on two washes of towels a week. Plus the fact the Airobe uses far more energy than washing towels.


8. Colgate-Palmolive multipurpose cleaner


A step beyond this is outright “green washing”, where businesses claim environmental credentials that are spurious, at best.


Choice rapped a Colgate-Palmolive cleaning spray for claiming to be “Caring for our environment” by being phosphate-free, biodegradable, having recyclable packaging and Australian made.


As Choice puts it: “Phosphates aren’t a common ingredient in multipurpose cleaners. The biodegradability relates only to the cleaning agents, not the whole product – which is no different from a range of cleaners and not as good as some.”


“Being Australian-made is no indicator of a product’s green performance.”


Bottom line: Hurricane doesn’t green the planet as its name and claims try to make you believe. If you want a really green cleaner, there are better options on the shelf.


9. Apple iPod


What? The iPod? The invention that heralded the dominance of Apple, turning it into the most valuable company in the world?


Well, yes. It may surprise you to learn that the inaugural 2006 Shonkys featured the iPod, which was slammed for having cracked screens, faulty batteries and problems getting them repaired.


If you think that having a much-loved brand will save your reputation, think again.


Meat pie10. Black And Gold Meat Pie


Finally, when is a meat pie not a meat pie? The official answer is when it has less than 25% meat content.


The Black and Gold meat pie had just 17% meat. As Choice put it: “Not only shonky, but unAustralian.”