At What Point Does It Become False Advertising?

I’ll get to the main point of the post title in just a second, but first I want to encourage anyone who may have missed it to read Andy’s latest post below.  It can be really easy for us to dismiss certain blog posts because of the title (I know I do it often when pressed for time), and in doing so, sometimes we miss some great content.  I’ve heard this story from his life a few times over the years, and I think there’s a lot to be taken away from it.  So, please, if you have a minute, take a gander.

Back to our regularly scheduled program.

Like virtually every other blogger, we took part in the Million Card Giveaway conducted by Topps last year for their monumental 59th Anniversary celebration.  Like virtually every other blogger, we got our cards delivered near the deadline and they arrived in the mail a couple months ago.  Unlike most bloggers, however, we had a card on backorder.  I decided to hold off on posting the goods until all the goods were in.

Well, this week we finally got the last card we were waiting for.  A Terry Fox SP card #576 from 1965.  And here it is….

Wait a second....

Hmmm…That doesn’t look like Terry Fox to me.  That doesn’t look like a 1965 card to me.  The card number on the back doesn’t look like it’s an SP, either.  What happened?


I knew something was fishy when the card was placed on back order.  According to Topps’ accompanying letter, “We are in the process of fulfilling all cards and unfortunately we are unable to secure the card you unlocked.  In effort to over-deliver and be fair we have included a substitute that will be more vintage than the original card you unlocked.”

So, I pose to you the question that is the title of this post.  At what point does it become false advertising?

Shouldn’t the simple fact that the card is in their system and is “unlockable” mean that it is in fact available?  Why even mention it on the site if you don’t have it to fulfill?  I’m fairly certain that we unlocked this card directly from a code, since we did little trading over the course of the program.  But what if we had traded for it?  What if I gave up a specific card (or several cards) of a specific perceived value to specifically get this highly sought after 1965 SP?  How can you tell me that I just traded for a card to be named later?

What if I sold the rights to this card on ebay?  People have done that with the diamond die-cuts, promising shipment once available (not saying that’s right or allowed by ebay, but it’s been done so it’s not out of the question).  So, say I hold this auction and my customer is waiting for his card, and months later I have to tell him he’s getting Johnny Logan instead?  What would make him believe I didn’t just pocket his card to sell later and pawn a “more vintage” card.

I guess the ebay example is where the argument really comes from.  On ebay, and in stores in general, you can’t pull the “bait and switch” like this.  I can’t win a Frank Thomas Auto auction, or purchase from sportlots, etc. and have a different card come in the mail saying, sorry we’re out, but thanks anyway.  You would have problems.  I know that the Million Card Giveaway isn’t a store in the traditional sense, but they are selling something.  Even though it’s running off the guise of a contest, specific cards have specific perceived values to the people unlocking and trading them.  If I would have known the SP wasn’t in house and may not be fulfilled, you’d be damn sure I’d trade it for something else.

For the record, in the 2011 Standard Catalog, the Fox SP is listed at $9, whereas the more vintage non-SP Logan is $6.  It’s a negligible difference, but I’m upset about the principle of the thing.  If the 1952 Mantle was unlocked and someone got a 1951 Red Back in the mail as compensation for the card they were unable to acquire, there’d be riots on the message boards and blogs.  I’m just saying that the principle is the same.

I don’t know, I guess I just assumed that the cards shown on the Million Card site were actually already, you know, owned by Topps and ready to be transported.  After all, when the Diamond Giveaway started up there was nothing but commons with a few sprinkled semi-stars.  That’s actually still pretty much the case.  Honestly, refresh the page for a while and see if you see any star players that aren’t on a 1980-something card.  I even tried some big names in the search function and found a whopping zero unlocked by anyone.  I waited to redeem most of my codes in hopes that superstars left over from the Million Card site would eventually be loaded up into the Diamond queue (but I got die-cut fever and ran through them all one night only to come up empty).  That all had to mean something right?  The supply was depleted.  Now, we find out that they can pick and choose whatever cards they feel like showing, because there’s no real obligation to go out and get them.

Looking on the Diamond Giveaway, I see nothing in the official rules stating that there is a chance the card will not be available – only that they reserve the right to substitute prizes at their sole discretion.  I’m asking a lot of questions, so I want to hear your thoughts, but before you chime in, take a look at this trade request I found while looking up the rules.

Seems fair to me

A trade request by “topps diamond.”  Do you think that this is some random dude that happened to nab that name, or is Topps trying to fill a Joe Sparma 1966 back order through a terrible, terrible trade offer?  You decide.

Also, for your viewing pleasure, here is the rest of the cards we had delivered – nothing younger than 1972.  I had planned to turn these into individual images, but I don’t think most of them deserve the effort.  Anyway, that’s why they’re out of order in the scans and that’s why Niekro shows up twice.  The 1971 in the middle of the first image is the same card as the back with wax stain shown in the second.

God that Niekro looks horrendous, but still about what we expected

As you can imagine, most of them are either off-center, have fuzzy, rounded corners, surface damage or all of the above.  And for the most part that’s totally fine, because we’re talkin’ vintage here.  I will say the Walter Alston card is basically mint.  Sharp corners, good centering, solid surface and color.  Really surprised at how great the condition is on it.  You can see that for the rest, some are better than others.

Double Whammy with that wax stain

The Ken MacKenzie looks like it’s been through a war and lost.  Oh, and we did get a Terry Fox, just a different year, and again not the SP we were hoping for.

In case you’re wondering, all of these are for trade and/or sale.  These were a joint effort, so if you want to trade us for them, we’d prefer to get something in return that we could potentially sell rather than something that would only go into only my or Andy’s collection.  Now, if you want to offer up a mix of stadium club and Frank Thomas cards, that’s a whole new ballgame.

Speaking of Frank Thomas, I figured I’d end my little tale with the positive side of Topps customer service.  I’ve bought a couple blasters of Gypsy Queen so far.  In my second blaster, I was lucky enough to pull a framed paper parallel of Frank Thomas.

You can image my excitement, since it’s pretty rare that a player collector will find a good parallel of one of his guys.  The excitement died pretty quickly when I noticed it came damaged.

I'm a MS Paint Pro!

I hear this is a recurring problem with the paper cards.  Mine was subject to some paper loss/peel in the bottom middle.  So, I followed the rules and sent the card/wrapper/upc in with a nice letter asking like a 10 year old kid to “please, sir give me another Frank Thomas, or if you don’t have one a Tony Gwynn would be neat-o.”  A couple weeks later, I get this in the mail.

Spot the Difference

Yes, Topps came through with a replacement of the same card.  I’m very happy with the speed at which this was handled as well.


So, let me hear it?  Do you think I should bother to contact Topps about the Terry Fox issue?  Do you think my rant is out of line?  Does this change the way you handle your Diamond Giveaway account?

10 comments to At What Point Does It Become False Advertising?

  • Literally every day I have trade offers from “topps diamond” and they are almost always laughable.

  • This has happened to a few bloggers, although mostly with a certain Phil Rizzuto card. I can’t help but notice that all of these complaints came from those who waited until the last minute to order their cards. Now, Topps should be able to handle the number of orders no matter what, but having worked in retail for a number of years, I know this just doesn’t happen. It has always been my experience that if you wait until the last minute, the service is not going to be what you like, especially if there’s a large number of consumers doing the same thing.

    I ordered cards through million card giveaway 3 separate times, the latest in January. I received all the cards I ordered. I have ordered once through the diamond giveaway and received all the cards I ordered. Some may have not been the condition that I would have liked, but I received exactly what I ordered.

    I don’t absolve Topps from blame, it is false-advertising, and they shouldn’t deliver you a different card without warning you first. Other businesses don’t give you a chair if you ordered a sofa.

    But this situation and the others do remind me of working in a department store. Every week people would complain because they came in on Thursday to buy something on sale that they saw in a weekly flier on Sunday and were upset because it wasn’t available anymore, because other consumers had come in earlier and bought it all up. The store didn’t have the inventory to match the demand. This happens all the time. Maybe stores are to blame. But sometimes you have to be smarter as a consumer.

  • You should definitely contact Topps. It probably will amount to nothing, but the principle of the matter is at the least worth talking to them about.

    I wish you the best of luck with that endeavor, should you choose to undertake it.

  • Night Owl – I got a different card from the 61 Rizzuto MVP as well, and ordered it on the last week. I’m actually ok with the card they gave me – it was a ’54 topps in fairly good shape, so I’m not going to call customer service or anything.

    That said, I couldn’t disagree more with being a smarter consumer or the
    I realize it probably happened because I did order it late – but I did so because I was trying to trade it for another card – THIS SOMETHING THEY ADVERTISED AS A COOL FEATURE TO THEIR SITE! I got back into collecting in mid-2010, and didn’t even pull the Rizzuto until later in the year.

    I don’t think this is the same as a retail store advertising a product – because in your example, the consumer makes the trip out to the store, and they say they’ve run out. This is closer to the consumer calling in an order (getting a certain card on the site), the store charging your credit card over the phone (Topps took your money for the pack you bought that had the MCG card) and then not having the product you already paid for. So instead, they “give you a chair instead of a sofa”.

    It’s definitely Topps taking their customers for granted, which maybe is good business on their part – because it’s not like I’m going to stop buying Topps cards at this point. But it definitely doesn’t make me want to buy more than if I had gotten the Rizzuto the site said I would…

    Finally – one other thing that rubs me the wrong way more than anything. They said that any cards not claimed would be donated to a charity (I think cards for kids or something). Considering they couldn’t fill orders of claimed cards, dan their be any doubt at this point that this isn’t entirely true? I realize their is an optimal level of customer dissatisfaction – but lying about donating the extra cards to kids isn’t good business – it’s more like a scam.

    • Jon

      I’m with Charlie (obviously). Going to a store in hopes that what they advertise is still in stock isn’t exactly the same as saying it’s in stock then pulling a switcheroo.

      I used to work retail at Hollywood Video, where we used to guarantee movies. If the movie wasn’t in stock, you got a voucher to rent it free a later date. This is pretty similar (and an analogy I wish I remember while writing the post). The only difference is you don’t get a voucher for the same card. Oh, and I still paid to have the replacement card shipped. The card I didn’t request.

      I don’t know if Topps is taking their customers for granted or if they bit off more than they can chew, but the Rizzuto side of things certainly is a symptom of a larger problem. You shouldn’t offer that many copies of something that never was there. They have to be able to control their inventory numbers per card.

      Anyway, what this teaches me is to dump my vintage off on someone else in hopes that I can get a die-cut that will almost assuredly be in stock.

  • I’m one of those who had a Rizzuto MVP from 1961 and ordered mine back in March already but was told right away that shipment of that card was going to be delayed….so I have to humbly disagree with my good friend the ” night owl” in that I did not wait till the last minute ( I pulled the card from a blaster box of Topps Traded )….well, I got the same letter from Topps and got a 1954 Eddie Robinson #62….never heard of him but looks like he put up some decent stats…a couple of seasons with 117 rbi and 104 rbi in ’51 and ’52…had a chance to trade for a 54 Tiger and turned it down wanting the Rizzuto….guess I should have taken the trade.

  • Well, obviously people don’t agree with me, which isn’t surprising since sympathy for Topps is a very rare emotion on the blogs.

    I can’t say anything more without turning it into a blog post of my own, which I doubt I will. Suffice it to say, I hope Topps treats you right and fixes its problem, and remember there were lots of folks, including me, who got every vintage card that they ordered.

  • terry

    I know Im not happy! My Son and I had a blast unlocking and trading cards. And as huge fans of the S.F. Giants, we traded for Giants only. Out Of 130 + cards we got, Only one was not a Giant…We kept a 2001 Pudge Rodriguez!
    So my Son and I was thrilled when we got a 1969 card of McCovey/Marichal duo. Well, both of the cards I just mentioned had to be back ordered.
    After waiting a couple months, Topps shoots me an email saying my Mac/Marichal card has been shipped….wrong! What I got was a badly off centered 1961 card of the famous Chico Fernandez of Detroit…..WHO!!!
    Did they not notice my collection was all of one team? So I wrote them back and told them I will accept the 1961 Chico in place of the Pudge.
    I then ask them to send me my 1969 card I was wanting….if that was not possible to do, then send me a 1969 Gaylord Perry or a 69 Bobby Bonds. Or even a 1961 Cepeda or a rookie card of Montefusco or John D’Acquisto! But to send me a nobody in exchange for two HOF PLAYERS on one card….No way!
    As of today, I have not heard back from Topps!
    Thanks for letting me vent…GOD BLESS!

  • terry


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