Earlier today, Lifehacker attended CHOICE's 9th annual Shonky Awards, where Australia's most misleading, shoddy and unsafe products are named and shamed. From rip-off bank accounts for kidds to self-disintegrating cosies, these are the dodgiest Australian products of 2014.
For the past nine years, consumer watchdog CHOICE has been doling out the dreaded "Shonky Awards" — an anti-prize for Australia's worst products and services. Each Shonky recipient is either misleading, dangerous or of particularly bad value to consumers.
"When CHOICE started the Shonkys eight years ago, it was probably on the hope that they would run for a few years and that we'd ultimately run out of material," CHOICE's CEO Alan Kirkland said at the event.
"Sadly, there's no shortage of examples of businesses that need to do better. When we put out the call to the public this year we were swamped by the number of nominations."
Each year, CHOICE highlights a few "almost-rans" that weren't quite terrible enough to make the Shonky shortlist. (Better luck next year, eh?)
Fantastic "Gluten Free" Rice Crackers
Like most snack foods that fulfill a specific dietary requirement, Fantastic's gluten-free rice crackers carry a pretty hefty premium. What the company refrains from telling you is that its regular rice crackers contain no gluten either. In the words of Shonky host Kate Browne; "what you're paying for is a bigger font on the packaging."
Coles "Fresh Baked" Bread
As we previously reported, Coles was recently busted for misleading customers about the freshness of its bread. The Australian Federal Court found that certain bread products advertised by Coles as “freshly baked in store” were sometimes produced months previously in other countries. The supermarket giant has subsequently been banned from promoting baked-then-frozen bread as "fresh" for three years.
This year's awards garnered more nominations from the public than ever before, with an emphasis on deliberately misleading marketing and products that weren't fit to purpose. Here are the "winners" in full.
The Commonwealth Bank made international headlines this year for a financial planning scandal that saw numerous customers lose their life savings. While these unethical practices were bad enough, it was CBA's response that saw it win a Shonky. After a long delay in acknowledging fault, the bank lobbied to remove financial advice protections from consumers while simultaneously launching a slick PR campaign to limit the damage to its reputation. Tch.
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite
One of the advantages of Amazon's Kindle ereaders are their superior battery life compared to most electronic gadgets; a fact that's prominently highlighted in the marketing material. However, it turns out that some of these claims are more than a little bit dubious. In a recent advert for the Kindle Paperwhite, Amazon boasted that the device's battery lasted for eight weeks in-between charges. However, the small print revealed that the figure was based on a daily usage pattern of just 30 minutes. As CHOICE points out, this is like a lollipop that claims it lasts a whole month, but only if you lick it once per day.
Arnott's peanut butter flavour Tim Tams
When a biscuit is being marketed as "peanut butter flavoured" there's a reasonable expectation that it might contain peanuts. Instead, the chief ingredient in Arnott's Peanut Butter Tim Tams is paprika. In addition, the peanut butter version comes with two fewer biscuits, despite being identically priced and using the same sized packaging. Not cool.
S26 Gold Toddler and Junior powdered milk
S26 received a Shonky award for guilt-tripping parents into buying a wholly unnecessary product for their kids. The company openly encouraged retailers to "keep mums buying" with its extended range of formula products for toddlers and older children. However, the vast majority of nutritionists agree that formula isn't necessary for children over the age of one.
Most banks try to limit their penny-pinching when it comes to accounts aimed at children. It seems BankWest didn't get the memo. For its Kids' Bonus Saver account, the bank enforces a minimum monthly deposits of $25 to ensure higher interest payments stay out of reach of most pre-school customers. In addition, Bankwest offers kids an interest rate of 5.75% in the first year of joining up, but only 1% thereafter (savings are automatically transferred to a low-interest account 12 months after joining up.) Its mascot should be Scrooge McDuck.
With the weather heating up, plenty of Aussies have been heading to Kmart to snap up a cheap cosie. What they probably don't realise is that their new swimwear carries a range of highly restrictive disclaimers. Things to avoid include water (moisture makes them see-through), suntan lotions (this degrades the material) and heated pools or spas. In other words, they're basically useless for anything other than sun baking.
The furore surrounding Thermomix's sneaky product upgrade is unprecedented: it received more Shonky nominations from the public than any other product in the history of the awards. Customers who forked out for the high-end kitchen appliance were dismayed to see a new model on store shelves mere days after making their purchase. There was absolutely no warning that the product was about to be superseded. Click here for the full story.
If you were a victim of one of the above companies, it’s not too late to let your displeasure be known -- you can cast your vote for the "People’s Choice" Shonky at CHOICE’s website. The winner will be announced at a later date. Naturally, you can also register your displeasure by sending the offending company a public message on Twitter.