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bitwiseshiftleft
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PatrThom wrote:The ones that always get me are statements like:

"The new version is three times smaller than the old one."

Ergargleblarg that's not possible! It can be "67% smaller" or "1/3 the original size," but saying something is "twice as slow" is about as useful as saying your magical device can amplify sound on the order of one to the fourth power.

Like most things that pedants rant about on the internet, this is an accepted (by most) feature of English, is technically correct when viewed appropriately, and is only a problem when it causes ambiguity or awkward constructions.

It turns out that we can measure slowness. There's even a unit for it, known as the second. If one thing is twice as slow as another, then it takes twice as many seconds to complete.

Similarly, you can measure speed, in meters per second or in hertz. Something twice as fast moves twice as many meters per second, or accomplishes twice as many things per second (or other time interval). If one thing is twice as fast as another, it takes half the time to complete.

This isn't really even a problem for "three times smaller", because in vernacular English this almost certainly means the same as "three times as small". When "smallness" is measured appropriately (e.g. the number of items you can fit in a manila envelope), then this object has three times as much smallness as the previous version (and not four times as much).

The only times this is a problem is when the difference is less than 100%, and the direction isn't clear from the measurement; or when people say "x% faster" but mean "x-100% faster". For example, a car that's 25% faster probably moves 25% more meters in one second at top speed, but it might instead reach some particular speed (60mph?) in 25% fewer seconds, or have 25% higher acceleration at some speed, or something. Similarly, a computer program that's 25% faster might complete in 25% less time. Or it might compute at 25% more effective FLOPS, which would cause it to complete in 20% less time.

dcollins
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Okay, so this is what got me to register for the forums: I would argue that panel #2 is either wrong, or at least overly broad in its wording. Here are some counterexamples I can think of why someone would advertise something "free" and not have a positive "expected value for the money that will move from you to them".

(1) The free item is informational or persuasive. e.g. -- A religious pamphlet or video; a political call to action or vote.
(2) The free good is done for charitable or governmental community-health reasons. e.g. -- Free flu shots, free screening for certain diseases, free tutoring/ child care/ after-school activities/ job training etc.
(3) The free good is for a service that is monetized by an outside third party, such as by advertising. e.g. -- Broadcast television programs, conventional radio, GMail, social networking sites, etc.

And probably more...

phlip
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dcollins: You're right. For the comic to be accurate, you need to implicitly restrict the scope to commercial advertising (to cover your points 1 and 2), and change it to "their expected value for the money they will gain by you seeing it (most likely from you, possibly indirectly) is \$x/(N+1)" (to cover point 3).

Actually, I'd claim that the original is still OK on your point 3... it doesn't say directly. If, say, a TV station spends \$x advertising that they are broadcasting for free, to you and N other people, and their show is ad-supported, then they're expecting some percentage of those N+1 people to become extra viewers, some percentage of which will buy stuff from the ads in the show, which will flow through into an increase in ad revenue for the station of at least \$x. Which is, indirectly, money flowing from the viewers to the station. Same with other ad-supported things.

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EdgarJPublius
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dcollins wrote:Okay, so this is what got me to register for the forums: I would argue that panel #2 is either wrong, or at least overly broad in its wording. Here are some counterexamples I can think of why someone would advertise something "free" and not have a positive "expected value for the money that will move from you to them".

(1) The free item is informational or persuasive. e.g. -- A religious pamphlet or video; a political call to action or vote.
(2) The free good is done for charitable or governmental community-health reasons. e.g. -- Free flu shots, free screening for certain diseases, free tutoring/ child care/ after-school activities/ job training etc.
(3) The free good is for a service that is monetized by an outside third party, such as by advertising. e.g. -- Broadcast television programs, conventional radio, GMail, social networking sites, etc.

And probably more...

1.) Churches want tithes, politicians want votes and monetary contributions to re-election campaigns.
2.) I'm not sure government counts, though it can be argued that a government wants tax income. Charitable organizations generally include some message about donation on such fliers,
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I wrote:Does Space Teddy Roosevelt wrestle Space Bears and fight the Space Spanish-American War with his band of Space-volunteers the Space Rough Riders?

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falkreon
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phlip wrote:The "+1" is because the text says "you and N other people", ie N+1 people total. So they've paid \$x/(N+1) per person on average, so they're expecting to get at least that much back per person on average.

Exactly, except that typesetting happens only once. This fraction represents the total cost over total net. The general idea is that they're trying to arrive at X <= X/(N+1), so the more N+1 is greater than X, the smaller the fraction is, and once the fraction is smaller than X the bastards start making money.

Something still seems fishy though. Randall's assuming one dollar per customer, which isn't right. X + p(N+1) <= k(N+1), where X is the up-front typesetting cost, p is printing and/or display costs on average per person, and most importantly k is the dollar amount per capita that they expect to be shoveled into their filthy, malformed phalanges.

321nitram123
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This reminds me of a time when a local politician was doing his door to door rounds at election time. His slogan was "The best possible service, for the best possible price". I had to explain to him that all this slogan ammounted to was "I will not get ripped off".

Dinoguy1000
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Joined: Fri May 28, 2010 7:21 am UTC

My pet peeve is coupons. Sure, they're a great way to save money, but it only works when you stick to buying stuff you would have bought without the coupons. It doesn't help matters that many coupons effectively function as loss leaders, being provided for low-desirability items in an effort to get you spending more time in the store (or just get you in the door in the first place) and thus spending more money. This probably doesn't apply to those people who can magically abuse coupons to the point that the store has to pay them, though.

EdgarJPublius wrote:1.) Churches want tithes, politicians want votes and monetary contributions to re-election campaigns.

I'm probably going to get dragged over the coals for splitting hairs here (or because I'm a person of faith on a predominately religion-less (couldn't think of a better term to use; feel free to suggest one mid-flame =D ) board), but (at least within my denomination) tithing is stressed as a voluntary activity - if you're not giving because you genuinely want to, the church (little "C", I'm Protestant) doesn't want your tithe.
How much wood could a woodchuck chuck?

jalohones
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EdgarJPublius wrote:
dcollins wrote:
(2) The free good is done for charitable or governmental community-health reasons. e.g. -- Free flu shots, free screening for certain diseases, free tutoring/ child care/ after-school activities/ job training etc.

2.) I'm not sure government counts, though it can be argued that a government wants tax income. Charitable organizations generally include some message about donation on such fliers,

I work for a health education charity. While we do accept tax deductible donations, they form a negligible part of our income. We are government funded, but we're a non-government organisation. We do spend money telling people what we can give them for free, without expectation of any material gain in return.

So nyer. (OK, OK, we're an exception, but I'm claiming my possession of the Moral High Ground as exempting me from real logic(TM).)

zAlbee
Posts: 95
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bonzomadrid wrote:Wanted to chip in with my 2 pence worth. My pet hates are:

1. Most foods have artificial colours, artificial flavours and artificial preservatives. When, in big letters, a product is declared to be free of one or two of these, it automatically means it has the other two (or one).

wrong comic - http://xkcd.com/641/

2. "only 5% fat" is honest advertising. "95% fat free" is not. For some reason that really bugs me.

LOL. "Now with 20% less fat than a bowl of fat!"

Also I'm going to start calling my 2% milk in the grocery store as 98% fat-free milk from now on.

jalohones
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zAlbee wrote:"Now with 20% less fat than a bowl of fat!"

When I break into marketing I'm going to advertise "98% fat free lard" and then sell containers that are only 2% full of lard. I'll make millions.

phlip
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jalohones wrote:When I break into marketing I'm going to advertise "98% fat free lard" and then sell containers that are only 2% full of lard. I'll make millions.

Unfortunately, these things are measured by weight, not by volume... so you're going to need to ship a lot of empty space to make up 98% of the weight...

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jalohones
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phlip wrote:
jalohones wrote:When I break into marketing I'm going to advertise "98% fat free lard" and then sell containers that are only 2% full of lard. I'll make millions.

Unfortunately, these things are measured by weight, not by volume... so you're going to need to ship a lot of empty space to make up 98% of the weight...

Bucket O' Lard! It sells itself.

hailthefish
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Joined: Wed May 12, 2010 5:05 am UTC

Before you get to work on that business plan of yours, consider that for a large number of products, the packaging is almost as expensive (if not more so) than the contents (for the company that sells the product).

jakster
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My favorite is the cable companies around here

"20 MB internet for €15,- a month"

DVC
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This is almost a GOOMHR moment. I've been thinking all week about an article I read: http://www.zdnet.com.au/unlimited-war-j ... 310389.htm

It's about the Australian Competition and Comsumer Commission's mission to go after Internet providers misleadingly using the word 'Unlimited.' The author in the end advocates for the ISPs suggesting that a reasonable person wouldn't expect Unlimited internet access from a plan labelled as such, since the word unlimited is now, apparently, like the word super. I reckon the guy is an idiot. How are ISPs who actually have an unlimited plan to advertise if this is so? The better than unlimited plan perhaps? Maybe Super Unlimited? Moronic.

Anyway, if you have time drop over to ZD net and tell the guy he is an idiot for me.

V.M.
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"The more you spend the more you save" refers, I think, to Keynes' "paradox of saving".
From a macroeconomic perspective, if a large number of people saves money instead of spending it, the demand for goods decreases. Assuming the market is in equilibrium, if demand decreases, production decreases too. If production decreases, income decreases, which means less money to save.

So macroeconomically speaking, less spending does mean, in the short run, less saving. Though I'm sure one can find thousands of rebuttals to keynesian economics.

IMHO
Last edited by V.M. on Wed Mar 09, 2011 12:19 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

FrederikVds
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I find the first one is even more annoying without "or more". "Save up to 15%!" The only thing that says is that I'm guaranteed not to save more than 15%. How is that supposed to convince me?

torbenm
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My "favourite" mathematically annoying advertising are signs of the form "Before up to \$25, now from \$10". They are quite common, possibly because of the very fact that they give an impression of larger savings than you really get. The signs even allow all prices to double and will still mislead the mathematically naive to think that they save something.

Like a previous poster, I also dislike "95% fat free" and similar claims. In a similar vein, I have seen a bag of sugar proudly proclaim in bold letters that it "contains absolutely no cholesterol!". Both statements are logically true, but try to give an impression that the products are more healthy than they really are.

jarickc
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After years of following XKCD I needed to make an account to respond to this.

My pet peeve is "for only a fraction of the price" As 2/1 is a fraction it always upsets me. I believe this is more vague than "up to 15% or more" as it contains all real numbers. I always hope that the fraction is negative but know I will always be disappointed.

sportsracer48
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I had a similar experience with ads on the internet. I kept seeing ads for "free" games (some of which had boobs on them!). Then I realized that they could not pay for the ads simply by using ads, so it can't really be free. So, REMOVE YOURSELF FROM MY CRANIUM, RANDALL MONROE!

P.S, reminds me of

neoliminal
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"If you call in the next 10 minutes, we'll double the value. That's two sets of foo for only \$X!!!"

I called at 11 minutes and they said no. How they knew which channel I was watching I'm not sure, so I Tivo'd it and played it in the background the next time I called, proving it was on.

"But wait, there's more, buy now and we'll add in a set of Y absolutely free!! Just pay shipping and handling."

I called but told them I didn't want the extra stuff. They said their computer didn't have a way to enter the order like that.
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legopelle
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bitwiseshiftleft wrote:Like most things that pedants rant about on the internet, this is an accepted (by most) feature of English, is technically correct when viewed appropriately, and is only a problem when it causes ambiguity or awkward constructions.

It turns out that we can measure slowness. There's even a unit for it, known as the second. If one thing is twice as slow as another, then it takes twice as many seconds to complete.

Similarly, you can measure speed, in meters per second or in hertz. Something twice as fast moves twice as many meters per second, or accomplishes twice as many things per second (or other time interval). If one thing is twice as fast as another, it takes half the time to complete.

This isn't really even a problem for "three times smaller", because in vernacular English this almost certainly means the same as "three times as small". When "smallness" is measured appropriately (e.g. the number of items you can fit in a manila envelope), then this object has three times as much smallness as the previous version (and not four times as much).

The only times this is a problem is when the difference is less than 100%, and the direction isn't clear from the measurement; or when people say "x% faster" but mean "x-100% faster". For example, a car that's 25% faster probably moves 25% more meters in one second at top speed, but it might instead reach some particular speed (60mph?) in 25% fewer seconds, or have 25% higher acceleration at some speed, or something. Similarly, a computer program that's 25% faster might complete in 25% less time. Or it might compute at 25% more effective FLOPS, which would cause it to complete in 20% less time.

I don't think he was completely serious, but your thoughts are interesting nevertheless. I do (and I'm sure you might too) think that this is unnecessary complicated advertising, when 80% less even sounds better and is more straightforward. "Almost certainly" is not really good enough to make mathematically valid answers, but then again, it's why advertisers use them.
Using inverted units is ugly when normal do just as nicely.

ON a similar note, I remember arguing that a song slowed down 600% is actually going in reverse five times its normal speed.

EDIT: Wait... by your logic, shouldn't a 50% slower then mean double speed?
Last edited by legopelle on Wed Mar 09, 2011 8:26 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Vorghagen
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jalohones wrote: but I'm claiming my possession of the Moral High Ground as exempting me from real logic(TM).)

Thank you. With your help I just won every argument I will ever be engaged in...... ever. And I don't care if you've trademarked it, because I am bringing the moral truth to the uninformed masses and as such, I'm claiming my possession of the Moral High Ground as exempting me from real logic.

mojo-chan
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"Helps reduce the signs of ageing", just like jumping up and down helps flatten the surface of the earth.

"Unlimited" in the sense of any amount below the "fair use" limit we decided on.

"95% coverage in the UK" really means "95% of outdoor areas on a low resolution grid based on reception of the lowest possible usable signal anywhere within each grid section. Indoors probably won't work so well and you will find no signal blackspots here and there which are not included in our figure".

"Buy one get one free" means "we were making more than 100% profit on these".

"Save up to £x" assuming of course you were going to actually buy it in the first place, otherwise you are just losing £y on something you didn't previously want.

These kinds of lies are actually enshrined in law, known as torts. A tort is something which a trader says that it is assumed a normal person would understand is untrue or at least unverifiable. "Best fish and chips in the country" or "lowest prices in the south" are example, the assumption being that most people would recognise that the trader has not tested every other take-away or checked every other shop. It seems an odd thing to allow because if ordinary people really did fully understand that these claims were lies then surely they would have no impact on them, save making them distrust the untruthful salesman.

arcticfox.sq
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What? I saw free and didn't read the rest of the comic. Where's my free stuff?

petelutz
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This is amazing. It's the long winded version of a joke I've been making with one of my friends for years.

"Dude, you cant afford NOT to buy that!"

Nergye
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Joined: Fri Feb 04, 2011 10:27 am UTC

On the subject of torts, on a main road in North-west England is a car wash, which advertises in large letters across all available flat surfaces of its structure: "THE BEST HAND-JOB IN THE NORTH". I often wonder how rigorous the scientific testing behind this claim must have been. This is surely the kind of science that most people wait their whole lives to be able to take part in... (Since this relies on what is, for all I know, quite localised slang, Urban Dictionary may be your friend if you don't understand this)

Slightly more on-topic, I feel I must weigh in on the side of those who feel that spending more money is not saving more money. I tend towards thinking that "saving money" is roughly equivalent to not spending money, or at least holding off on spending it until some point in your future where spending it is more critical.

Since it is beyond the power of consumers, retailers, marketers, and just about everyone else to be able to definitively demonstrate what the price of any given item will be, an unspecified amount of time into the future; and since this is the premise on which other posters in this forum have been explaining the claims by advertisers that you will save money by buying more of their product at a lower price now, instead of only buying what you need now, and buying the rest at said unspecified future time; I would say that this advertising claim cannot be proven to be correct, which I think is close enough to being equivalent to it being incorrect (since the whole point is that they're trying to convince you that spending more WILL save you money, categorically) that it should apply under false advertising laws.

Assuming that the country you live in has such laws, of course.

Edit: Apologies for longest sentence evar. Semicolons can only do so much!

edoules
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Ghona wrote:It certainly is possible to be more vague than "save up to 15% or more".

You could say "there exist points that fit into the set of allowable savings", for instance.

Or saying "the set of possible savings includes 15%" would give you slightly less information (you would not know whether or not 15% was a member of the set of points that could serve as the upper or lower bound for savings)

Also, "savings" is restricted to positive numbers, so the graph needs to be clipped at zero.

Actually, your first example seems a lot more precise than the one in the comic (but not your second example) -- it guarantees that there exists a single value for which all savings are mapped; the comic makes no such guarantee -- if anything, your statement identifies that [bold]all[bold] savings are equal (?)

... Also -- why are the values in the number line in the first pane one hundred times larger than they should be?

MacFreek
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I vividly remember the time I spent in a office supplies store, buying paper (I loved to draw diagrams as a kid), which was advertised as "0-10 papers for \$0.10, 11-20 paper for \$0.08, 21 or more papers \$0.06". It freaked me out, and I am sure I bugged the store manager for at least 10 minutes before I finally figured out the sign meant to say "\$0.10 PER PAPER", "\$0.08 PER PAPER" and "\$0.06 PER PAPER". I don't remember those details, but I guess I found out at the check out, carrying a pig pile of papers and hoping to get them all for just \$0.06.

kryton
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while it is correct to say that if A is twice as big as B (A = 2 * B) and correct to say the B is half as big as A (B = 1/2 * A), most folks [unfortuantely (or misfortuantly)] are awful at math, and instead of concoring the arduous task of inverting the coeficient {is it really that difficult to invert 2 into 1/2? [ how hard is it to invert 3 into 1/3 (or even invert 4 into 1/4?)]}, they invert the adjetive. i.e 1/bigger = smaller.
and people who are not good at math actually get this and understand what it means!!! ????

and as the wife said to the husband, "you should be proud of me, i saved you \$400 today. this coctail dress is normally \$1000, but the store had a sale if you bought two and get 20% savings, so I did"
1298 and counting

sportsracer48
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why is the dependent variable on the x-axis? For shame.

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Well since we're onto this track of thinking, a long standing issue comes to mind:

Total cereal.

So I can only eat 1oz of Total in milk and the rest I intake is excess? Am I possibly overdosing myself on vitamins? Or, does an ounce of cereal contain 1/3rd of my daily allowances, 100% of my breakfast allowances (assuming 3 meals a day)? That'd be some sneaky shit. What if I'm careless about my standards of measurement, just fill the bowl, and end up with 3 ounces of cereal? DOOOOOOOOOOOOM

Spoiler:
http://www.totalcereal.com/nutrition.aspx

SirMustapha
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So, you're telling me that advertising sometimes uses fanciful wording to make something sound more advantageous than it actually is? NO SHIT, RANDALL! Did you really need maths to figure THAT out?

Hai! Did u kno that advertising sometimes uses jingles that are so catchy that they become annoying? Gee, I wonder how can you prove that mathematically, because I don't really understand it in my own terms!

dracolytch
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And while we're on the subject...

Stop yelling at me.

dracolytch
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maxh wrote:The last panel seems to be a misunderstanding. Although spending more on a given item with a set "normal" price clearly means one saves less money, the slogan clearly applies to the total purchase. For example, if one saves 15% via discount, the person who spends 10\$ saves 1\$50, whereas the person who spends 100\$ saves 15\$. By spending more, they save more. Whether the additional spending is a good idea is left as an exercise for the reader.

It depends on how you frame the concept of saving. If I go into a shirt store, that has 40% off, and I buy \$100 worth of shirts, when I am done at the register, my bank account tells me I saved -\$60.

Fume Troll
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Location: Scotland / Norway mainly

Since we all became terrified of the flu, my employer has started placing packs of sanitising wipes in all public spaces. The blurb on the one they use must be one of the most qualified statement's I've ever read; it claims that it "kills 99.99% of most common germs that may make you sick". In other words "most of most of most of most of most germs."

All of which also ignores the fact that we're fighting viruses, not germs...

Jof16's
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solobutterfly wrote:I've worked in retail, and have some experience with the commercial/advertising world so I know how true this comic is, however, I've also had a co-worker and a high school friend who are so skilled with using coupons they have made the grocery stores owe them. I've yet to figure out how they have hacked the real world.

They hacked the real world? Damn.

Also, I hate dishonestly in advertising. I know a lot of companies make money with net adverts, but I have them all blacklisted using Adblock Plus. Dishonest math annoys me to no end. Math is supposed to be the purest field (according to another comic by Randall).

Which reminds me. Whatever was tripping the adblockers must have been fixed because I had no trouble with the comic.

willpellmn
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Far and away the best XKCD of at least the last 100 or fewer strips.

(That is to say, I think it's very good and I'm also riffing on panel 1 because that one in particular is pure genius.)

rcox1
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maxh wrote:The last panel seems to be a misunderstanding. Although spending more on a given item with a set "normal" price clearly means one saves less money, the slogan clearly applies to the total purchase. For example, if one saves 15% via discount, the person who spends 10\$ saves 1\$50, whereas the person who spends 100\$ saves 15\$. By spending more, they save more. Whether the additional spending is a good idea is left as an exercise for the reader.

Let's take a look at it a different way. There is some price, P, that will cover efficient development, production, and fixed cost, and minimally acceptable profit. There is some price P', that includes the inefficiency inherent in the process, for instance salaries higher than absolutely necessary to attract minimally acceptable talent in a given market, and use of wasteful processes. There is third price, P'', that is the offer price at which the consumer is asked to purchase the product. In general, P<P'<P''. Anyone who pays P'', not considering intangibles and opportunity costs, is simply wasting money and contributing to inefficiencies int he economy. In a free market system, competing firms theoretically tend to minimize these efficiencies, but given the discounts from P''', it is clear that inefficient prices is still the norm.

Therefore, IMHO, in most cases this comic is correct. Most discounts are not going to go below P, so the consumer is wasting more money the more he or she spends, since the money spent is higher than the price one would expect in a perfectly effecient free market economy. In most cases I would say 'discounted' prices are even higher than P'. Is is only when the discount falls below P that the consumer is actually saving more money the more he or she spends. At this point the consumer is gaining assets arguable of higher value than the price, though it may be difficult to realize this savings in liquid assets.

Or that is the BS some pseudo economist might put forth

alexriehl
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SirMustapha wrote:So, you're telling me that advertising sometimes uses fanciful wording to make something sound more advantageous than it actually is? NO SHIT, RANDALL! Did you really need maths to figure THAT out?

Hai! Did u kno that advertising sometimes uses jingles that are so catchy that they become annoying? Gee, I wonder how can you prove that mathematically, because I don't really understand it in my own terms!

*Yawn* The point of this comic is to be funny. So what if it tells us something we already know? The application of maths is part of what MAKES it funny. You don't have to take stuff so seriously all the time.

[ ] Like, dude, chill out. Seriously. [/ ]