Shonky Awards Highlight Consumer Rip Offs


Each year, consumer watchdog Choice runs the Shonky Awards, which highlight worst-case examples of companies and products that are marketed deceptively or don’t live up to their claims. Plenty of them are familiar, and they all underline the most important consumer principle of all: check the facts before you buy.

Of the eight companies awarded a Shonky by Choice this year, one example will be familiar to regular Lifehacker readers: Coles’ so-called $10 family meals. Back when I was doing the Mastercheap project, I noted that these represented a pretty massive cheat, since they often assume ingredients . Choice picked on the same example I did, and calculated that a family would actually have to spend $37.74 to produce the allegedly cheap “coq au vin” promoted by the supermarket chain.

Two of the other Shonky winners are worth bearing in mind the next time you’re in a supermarket as well. If you fancy some extra-virgin olive oil, choose very carefully: Choice’s testing suggests that many oils labelled as such age badly and lose flavour. Its advice is to stick with Australian-grown oils, since these are likely to be fresher.

If you’re buying painkillers, don’t be fooled into buying the various Nurofen products said to be for specific types of pain: despite the branding and the higher price tag, all have the same active ingredient (ibuprofen) and all will work in exactly the same way.

Another theme we often harp on is the importance of not becoming overly obsessed with reward schemes for credit card usage, since the amount of money you spend to gain the rewards often far outstrips the actual value you get. A Shonky went to a particularly telling example of this problem: if you spend $12,000 in a year on the Commonwealth Standard Awards card, you’ll get $20 in flight rewards. (Choice also calculates that using an average family’s grocery spend, it would take seven years to get a single Melbourne-Sydney flight — a tricky feat to pull off given that the points expire after three years.)

Some services are more obviously iffy. Choice highlights, a site which purports to provide the “meaning” of selected names but uses concealed terms and conditions in its registration section to hit customers with a $144 subscription. I’m sceptical of the notion that personal names “mean” anything in the first place, but it’s a telling reminder to always look at the agreement before signing up.

Hit the link for the full story behind each of the Shonky winners, and share your own examples of dodgy products and dodgy marketing in the comments.


Lifehacker’s weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.


  • This Choice (as per most of their “Research”) is the biggest load of rubbish going around. The “Feed your family for $10” thing is a marketing campaign, and you’d be an idiot for believing its anything but that.

    As for the CBA Awards scheme, yeah you get ripped off if you use your points for flights, but in what scheme don’t you get ripped off redeeming flights??? For the same amount of points you can get a $100 gift card for a number of stores, use your points for this, and pick up your Sydney to Melbourne flight when jetstar has their $49 flight deals…

    • I couldn’t agree more. Once upon a time Choice were capable of dispassionate, in-depth analysis and commentary, but these days that is forsaken in favour of sensationalist, shallow tabloid headline grabs, forever aimed at the same weary targets. In doing so, they are nowadays simply undeserving of their position as independent commentators. If offers such as the Coles $10 meal were truly as misleading as Choice would have us believe, the ACCC would have been on to them months ago.

      • wow. you guys don’t think its misleading for a supermarket to advertise a meal for $10 when the ingredients cost more than $10. what would you say is misleading?

        steve – your response really makes my head spin. you seem to be implying that everything in a marketing campaign should be specifically interpreted as untrue. but then rather than express any sort of annoyance at a situation in which advertising has no truth you sneer at any ‘idiots’ who would expect otherwise, as if being lied to and mislead was totally normal and righteous and questioning such a situation is obviously foolish… what are things like in your world?

      • It’s the dumbed-down approach from Choice that is most galling. Which is the more plausible scenario – that someone who regularly cooks for a family of four would have a typical range of seasonings, condiments etc in their pantry – or that upon reading the ingredient list, one would start from scratch (as Choice did) and purchase full bottles of all of the “pantry extras”, giving rise to the $30 claims from Choice. Even costing proportional use of the pantry extras I reckon the $10 limit would be met.

      • Its the same as believing the fuel consumption statistics on your car. Yeah you’ll get 8L per 100k if you sit on a highway at 80km/h and dont deviate from that but realistically you won’t be getting that.

        As others have said, the way Choice has done this is rubbish,

  • And then there’s their actual recommendations. Has anyone bought their “top” products and found them to be rubbish?
    On the theme of Nurofen marketing a product for a specific use is smart not shonky. Boo hoo Choice, so you dont like their marketing.

    • No Kieren, it’s shonky. They’re implying that you’re getting a specif remedy when it’s the same generic painkiller.

      What’s with all the apologists for shonky marketing? Do they work in marketing?

  • I think the problem with sensationalist pieces is they are just that, sensationalist. How many of the coles $10 recipes did they have to calculate before they found the most expensive one?

    Assuming you have salt and oil in your pantry isn’t that great a deception really… I have made a few of the coles recipes and they do indeed come in under $10, + or – a few cents worth of salt or pepper out of the cupboard.

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