Well I was shoppin’ for a new car, which one’s me?
A cool convertible or an SUV?
Too bad I didn’t know my credit was whack,
Cuz’ now I’m drivin’ off the lot in a used subcompact.
Whether you loved ‘em or hated ‘em, you have got to admit its a bit unusual not hearing these jingles on the TV anymore. So what happened to the FreeCreditReport.com band? What was the strategic reasoning for Experian to fire and replace them with the new free credit score band?
FreeCreditReport.com – the jig is up
Experian’s FreeCreditReport.com has had an interesting history, to say the least. In 2005 they were sued by the FTC for deceptive advertising. The settlement? Only $950,000, but it wasn’t even a cash fine. Rather, the company only had to provide $950,000 worth of free credit monitoring to those that fell victim. This was basically a drop in the bucket, considering the site’s annual marketing budget was reportedly $72M at the time. There were a multitude of other federal and state investigations into their deceptive practices. Of course to go along with this was a slew of negative publicity for the website (like an investigation by MSNBC reportedly calling it an outright “scam”).
But FreeCreditReport.com wasn’t about the let the feds and bad press poop the party. The solution? Come out with a “band” to sing obnoxiously cute and catchy tunes to hawk the website. So in October 2007 they began their Free Credit Report band commercials, lead by a French-Canadian actor named Eric Violette (who, by the way, has a very strong accent, which is why his singing was dubbed by a voice-over). And so it started…
Thanks to the successful Free Credit Report band commercials, the alleged scam became so widespread, that when the Credit Card Reform act of 2009 was passed, lawmakers put in specific language to address the problem. So consumers don’t confuse FreeCreditReport.com with AnnualCreditReport.com (the truly free once-a-year report), now this specific language had to be added to their commercials:
“This is not the free credit report provided for by Federal law.”
To make it even more clear, the Credit Card Reform Act called for the FTC to create new rules which force advertisers to say that AnnualCreditReport.com is the only place for a free credit report. Now Mr. Voilette would have to sing something like:
Go to FreeCreditReport.coooom
But it’s not the free credit report provided by federal law
For that go to AnnualCreditReport.com
The only place for you to get a free credit report!
Hmm… I don’t think that would work very well! So it was time for Experian to find a new angle…
FreeCreditScore.com – history repeats itself?
So earlier this year, FreeCreditScore.com ran commercials searching for a “band” and in early August that the winner was announced – The Victorious Secrets (which allegedly is an actual real band from Detroit). What they’re hawking for FreeCreditScore.com is basically the same bait ‘n switch snake oil FreeCreditReport.com was peddling. The difference is that now your “free” credit score is included.
Now something I haven’t heard the media bring up yet is whether FreeCreditScore.com will face the same demise as their predecessor in the future. Why do I say this? As part of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act – passed in July – free credit scores will need to be provided to consumers in certain situations. In a nutshell, anytime you are denied credit or hit with unfavorable lending terms, you will soon receive a free copy of your credit score that was used in making that decision. This is done automatically. Also there is no annual cap – meaning if you face adverse actions several times in a given year, each time your credit score must be provided. This law will be applicable to all credit reporting agencies.
Does this mean that down the road, the fed will pass a similar law for sites like FreeCreditScore.com, forcing them to say a disclosure so consumers aren’t confused? And although not everyone faces adverse credit decisions, what happens if later on we are given free access to our credit score one per year (like AnnualCreditReport.com giving us access once per year for credit reports). For years there have been lawmakers trying to give us just that (i.e. 2003 FACT Act). If we are ever truly given free annual access to scores, I could definitely see the government cracking down on FreeCreditScore.com in the exact same way as its predecessor.
Originally written 1/2011