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BBB: They may be big spenders, but they can’t buy reputation

I have been a pro football fan since I was a little girl. I have fond memories of sitting in front of the small black-and-white television in the basement with my dad, watching Bart Starr and the Packers dominate other teams most every Sunday.

Dad took time to explain the game to me and tell me stories about the players and owners, engaging me in the whole mystique of the AFL and NFL. And yes, from my childhood home in the suburbs of Denver I even watched those awful Bronco teams in the hideous uniforms. 

Fast forward to now. My husband and I watch football on Sunday, and thanks to satellite TV, we can see every game. I must admit I look forward to Monday nights when I can simply watch ONE game rather than the Sunday remote-heavy Red Zone Channel frenzy of all the games at once.

But a couple weeks ago, while watching “Monday Night Football,” I began to wonder about the commercials. No, not how stupid some of them are; about the ethics of the companies behind them. As an experiment I watched the Ravens and Jaguars play and wrote down the names of all the advertisers, just to see if my gut reaction of questionable companies dumping a ton of money into sporting event ads was correct. What an interesting experience.

Using my list I looked on for business reviews. The companies’ letter grades ranged from A+ to F. Here is a taste of what I found:

• Flex Seal, the gutter spray company, is based in California and has earned itself an F. Just fewer than 100 complaints have been filed in the last year; sales issues as well as billing problems make up the lion’s share of the problems.

• Three insurance companies are frequent fliers in football advertising: Progressive Corporation and USAA both carry an A+, while Geico Corporation in Washington DC has earned a C+. The reason for the lower grade for the gecko is failure to respond to or resolve a number of complaints. 

• Two cell phone companies also spend heavily on TV ads. AT&T headquarters earned an A+, while T-Mobile has a C grade. AT&T received 19,068 complaints in the past three years, while T-Mobile saw 27,321. They have both responded to all the complaints, but the volume for T-Mobile dropped its grade. 

• Online auction newcomer is a company based in Quebec, Canada, where there is no BBB service. It took me a while to figure out from the website where this company was located.

• That happened quite a bit. In one case I had to be a detective to figure out who was behind the ad in the first place. Researching finally brought me to Nike. But I guess the ad itself should have told me it was Nike. • Automobile manufacturers GMC, Lexus, Acura, Hyundai and Toyota fill most of each break with one or more ads. And the business reviews of local car dealers also run from A+ to F. There have been many times in my BBB life I wonder why someone would pour rivers of money into advertising and promotion, then treat their customers so horribly once they get them in the door. 

• The battle of the cable-satellite companies actually shows up in their ads. Each claims to do a better job of customer service than the other. So I turned to to see what kind of a grade DirecTV and Comcast Cablevision have earned. DirecTV, based in California, has a D+; Comcast, headquartered in Pennsylvania, has a C. The volume of complaints against DirecTV in the last three years is 38,236, while Comcast totaled 3,194. DirecTV is better at resolution but was the subject of two government actions. For full reports, go to

During the course of my experiment there were 53 different ads, assorted ESPN promotions spots and a bunch of movie teasers.

The lesson here: Even if a company spends a gazillion dollars on advertising, it does not change the business rating they earn with the BBB. Nor does it make that advertising true. As buyers, we still need to do our research.

Jan Quintrall is president and CEO of the local Better Business Bureau. She can be reached at