Media: Let's have it back, now]: It's when ads aren't trying to sell anything that you really take notice, says Jonathan Sale

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'1. CHECK the model number,' began the dishwasher advertisement. Or was it an ad? Splashed across four columns of every national newspaper, this announcement from Zanussi looked like an intelligence test for entry to Mensa.

'2. Check the identification numbers on the silver label at the base. 3. Copy the numbers you find there that are prefixed 'Mod D . . . and F Nr . . .' on to the llustration of the label on this coupon.'

Then the tricky bit - point 4: 'If the number falls between 821200 and 840800, your dishwasher needs our safety check. Points 5 to 8 begged those whose label featured an unlucky number to send in the coupon and, until the engineer appeared, keep a wary eye out for a possible electrical fault.

This was a recall advertisement. From time to time, a company draws attention to its own defects in all the national dailies.

Usually this type of ad - or rather, anti-ad - is a lot simpler than the Zanussi dishwasher warning. Anyone worried about bottles of Malt House Vintners Frascati and Frassino Frascati SuPeriore wines, a few of which have been found with damaged necks, merely has to take them back. The same goes for our Kenwood 'plastic kettlejugs' with uncertain water-level indicators, models number JK300 and JK700. And since 'a component may fail and overheat' we just switch off the Matsui 2580 25in large screen televisions - something which, in the light of the new TV franchises, we may have already done - and ask for our free


All 'customer alerts' deliver their message through gritted teeth. It must have been particularly galling for Comet to have to apologise for its Proline M2525 Microwave, and to splash out on a large display ad and a special hotline. The product itself was fine, but there was a mistake in the instruction leaflet.

It is a process not lightly undertaken. 'If it is purely a problem of quality - buttons falling off a man's shirt after the third washing - we wouldn't recall but we would replace and withdraw it from sale,' say Marks & Spencer. But for dodgy children's items, it is action stations. The company was prepared to announce the recall of every 'babies' sleepsuit with small pink bow on chest, rabbits motif on back, garment no 0909/6569', purely because one of the bows may have come off. Similarly, Playtime Toys (UK) instantly gave money back for its 'Midnight Chase' battery operated racing cars with 'a potential overheating problem'.

PIayskool once had to apologise for the cord attaching - or perhaps not attaching - a mouse to its 'Busy Elephant, Batch K89'. Index, The Catalogue Shop, has in the past drawn our attention to the wandering eyes of a teddy bear.

'There wasn't an accident,' insisted B & Q about a particular bunk bed, but when alerted by a Trading Standards officer the company tracked down the customers it had on record and advertised to the remainder about the below-par slats on the upper deck. After all that, only two sub-standard examples were discovered, neither of which had been sold.

Apart from a few brave souls such as Next, whose warning about loose earth wires on a lamp included the claim that the company 'regards customer safety as paramount', these breast-beating advertisers put out a message that must by definition be totally negative. Yet something positive can emerge from this public self-criticism.

'It is not necessarily a bad thing to say: 'Everybody makes mistakes',' declared Alan Copage, a director of Carat Research. 'Sometimes it is not to the detriment of the manufacturer or the brand. There's an 'Honesty Rules OK?' spin-off.'

'Strangely enough, our sales didn't suffer one bit,' agreed Zanussi.