Using Fear to Sell Pens, Part Two

This ad, for a Uni-ball pen that’s hard to erase, is kind of surreal. They’re using fear to sell pens—again—but it’s the wrong fear. They’re confusing check-washing fraud, where someone takes a check and changes the payee and maybe the amount, with identity theft. And how can someone steal money from me by erasing and changing information on a tax form? Are they going to cause my refund check to be sent to another address? This is getting awfully Byzantine.

Posted on February 16, 2009 at 7:28 AM29 Comments


Clive Robinson February 16, 2009 9:14 AM

As the book title said,

‘Fear is the Key’

The simple fact is people don’t think things through.

Simply because we are pre programed to scamper up a tree as opposed to logical thinking.

Afterall we have been “food” for a lot longer than we have had either science or logic…

Brandioch Conner February 16, 2009 9:24 AM

I don’t get it.

She’s asking me “Why wouldn’t you use a Uni-Ball” but she doesn’t give me any address to answer her at.

Most of my “financial” work is dove via computer. Do I really need to worry about “identity thieves” who can be foiled by a pen?

Johns February 16, 2009 9:34 AM

Actually, those $5 disappearing ink pens would be of more value than the Uni-ball. Using it to sign your leases, contracts and checks would ‘save’ money. The Uni-ball can only claim to prevent additional costs ‘over’ what you have agreed to pay.

Griffy February 16, 2009 9:43 AM

Agree that the fear-mongering sucks, but these are excellent pens. They don’t tend to bleed through paper like other similar pens.

Jo February 16, 2009 9:47 AM

People still do their taxes with pen and paper? They still send checks?

Oh – I realize that a lot of people do, but my wife and I (for example) have filed electronically for years – and I think there’s only about three times in the last year we wrote a check for anything!

Sell the pen on its aesthetics – it feels good to write with a good pen!

J.D. Bertron February 16, 2009 10:03 AM

They don’t confuse the fear of fraud with the fear of identity theft. They just know that the fear of one causes enough confusion to blur the logic long enough that many people won’t detect the lapse in the argument.
Unfortunately, if this was about food safety, armies of lawyers would claim false advertising, but this is about security and no judge would have the balls to go after them.

nick February 16, 2009 12:15 PM

If this technology makes it more difficult for amateur fraudsters to steal money, then why all the hate?

vanOrt February 16, 2009 12:33 PM

These are my favorite pens, although not for the reasoning in the commercials. I’m left-handed, so writing left to right means moving my hand over lots of freshly written ink. The ink in those Uni-ball pens dries almost instantly, so I don’t end up with ink on my hand and smudges on the paper.

Brandioch Conner February 16, 2009 12:35 PM

“If this technology makes it more difficult for amateur fraudsters to steal money, then why all the hate?”

And where are you seeing the “hate”?

All I’m seeing is people focused on addressing the facts of the situation (check washing is EXTREMELY rare compared to other forms of fraud), the use of !!!FEAR!!! to sell a product aimed at an extremely rare occurrence and the ad’s attempt to confuse “check washing” with “identify theft”.

Your question is the exact reason for that focus.

Just about ANYTHING can be “justified” with “If X makes it more difficult for Y to do Z, then why oppose X?”

There are far more effective and cost effective means of addressing the real issue.

Riko February 16, 2009 1:15 PM

These are just nice feeling pens. I have a bunch of them in my drawer. They are about the only pens that I actually use until they are out of ink.

jammit February 16, 2009 2:20 PM

If I buy ten of them, will I be ten times safer than those who buy only one?
I still use checks for utilities because my electric/gas utility isn’t online and they don’t have direct deposit. Of course, I’m in the middle of nowhere and only five years ago did we get actual names for our streets.

pen tester February 16, 2009 2:52 PM

I agree with some of the others: The ads might be junk, but the 207 is my favorite line of pen. (I’m sort of a “pen junkie.”) The only thing for which I don’t like them is on paper with a glossy-type finish, like some calendars.

Dave M February 16, 2009 6:02 PM

I’d like to see someone with some check washing experience post a youtube video of themselves washing the special ink right off of a check.

I doubt we’d see those ads anymore.

ice weasel February 17, 2009 12:48 AM

On a completely unrelated note, that’s one of the most amateurishly shot and edited commercials for a big corp. I’ve seen in awhile.

Kiaser Zohsay February 17, 2009 10:23 AM

Uniball’s ink “gets inside the fibers of the paper and won’t come off — ever.” I’m sure it also gets inside the fibers of your shirt pocket and won’t come off — ever!

Annie Nomous February 17, 2009 12:13 PM

If they’re going to use fear to sell pens, why not go all out and make a video showing how to defend yourself using the Parker Stainless Steel Jotter (model 58414WM). As an added bonus, it’s got the gel ink, too.

JT February 17, 2009 2:03 PM

“Most of my “financial” work is dove via computer. Do I really need to worry about “identity thieves” who can be foiled by a pen?”

This pen can still protect you in a digital age. Just remove your ethernet cable and jam the pen into the port. Voila… network protection!

Monday February 17, 2009 4:48 PM

These are by far my favorite pens I’ve ever used, it’s too bad they need a cheap gimmick to sell in this day and age.

Matt from CT February 19, 2009 1:10 PM

I too <3 Uni Balls…but not for the reasons in the add.

I have a few multi-color packs. When I’m doing internal audits, I change the color of the pen each day as I mark up working papers and such. Just helps my mind keep track of what I did when as the project progresses…on rare occassions something is found later on that makes me want to go back and review and re-test something from a prior day.

Peter E Retep February 20, 2009 5:50 PM

Unintended consequences, again:

Overseen on the public transportation while coming in to teach, today:

Student bragging on ballpoint pens – common brand name and appearance –

being used to sell $20 U.S. hits of various “street meds”.

Students apparently buy the loaded pens from each other for the $20.

Wonder: Is there is brand/look competition for being the most ubiquitous of the opaque pens?

Dave Snothereman February 22, 2009 9:31 AM

Many retail stores in the US use “counterfeit pens” (at about twenty bucks a pop) to “test” large-denomination bills. If the ink shows yellow, it’s good. The stupidity of this is easily demonstrable, since the ink even shows yellow when you mark their pulp newsprint sale flyers. Despite this, they continue to order them by the boxcar load.

Gee, I wonder why American business is in trouble?

Clive Robinson February 22, 2009 9:54 AM

@ Dave Snothereman,

“counterfeit pens”

In the UK there used to be two types of these pens. One picked up on starch in the paper, the other on “brightening agents”…

Both starch and brightening agents are quite common in the environment starch is in most “ready to eat” foods and the latter is in most peoples cloths (from washing
/laundry powder/liquid).

So the chances of having your notes regected are quite high which might account for why they are now quite rarely used in the UK.

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