I tip my cap to the person (or persons) who came up with DIRECTV's current television ad campaign. "Don't have a grandson with a dog collar!" is the most memorable advertising tagline I've heard in a long, long time.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I thought that writing this post in the style of the "Don't have a grandson with a dog collar!" ad campaign might help make it more entertaining reading. With thanks (or apologies?) to DIRECTV, here goes:
When a company offers a written warranty on a consumer product that sells for more than $15, the FTC’s “Pre-Sale Availability of Written Warranty Terms” rule, requires the company to make that warranty available to consumers before they buy the product. (The FTC’s “Guides for the Advertising of Warranties and Guarantees,” tell you how to advertise a warranty that is covered by the Pre-Sale Availability rule.)
When an FTC attorney goes to a store to buy a product that comes with a written warranty, he may check to see if the warranty is printed on the product package or is otherwise available at the point of sale so he can view it without having to buy the item (as required by the Pre-Sale Availability rule).
When the warranty isn’t printed on the product package and isn’t otherwise available at the point of sale, the FTC attorney may go to the company’s website to see if a copy of the warranty is available online.
When a copy of that warranty isn’t available online, that FTC may write to or e-mail the company’s customer-service department and ask that a copy of the warranty be provided to him.
When the company’s customer-service department tells the FTC attorney that a copy of the warranty is printed in the product's instructions for use and is, therefore, only available after he buys the product, the company may end up as the defendant in an FTC enforcement action.
Don’t end up as a defendant in an FTC enforcement action! If you sell in retail stores, either print the warranty on the product package or otherwise make the warranty available for consumers to see prior to sale. If you are a direct marketer, make sure your customer-service representatives are aware of the rule’s requirements and respond to consumer inquiries appropriately. In either case, make a copy of your warranty readily available on your company’s website.
It's been a few years since the FTC fined a company for violating the Pre-Sale Availability rule. But last August, the Commission requested public comment on that rule, the warranty advertising guides, and other warranty-related rules and interpretations as part of its ongoing regulatory review efforts. While we don't expect the agency to make radical changes in its warranty rules and guides, it wouldn't be surprising if there were some revisions made -- perhaps in order to clarify the applications of those rules and guides in the online world.
Oh, by the way -- while we’re not aware of any class actions based on failure to comply with the pre-sale availability rule, one of our clients recently received a letter from an attorney who had not been able to obtain a copy of its warranty without purchasing its product. (Hmmm . . .)
We'll keep you posted. In the meantime, don’t get depressed if there’s nothing good on TV tonight. You might end up selling your hair to a wig shop. (watch commercial here.)