Who You Callin’ Pinhead?


“If you don’t drive a Ford F-150, well, you’re an idiot.”

“Use Cascade, unless you’re a knuckle-dragging troglodyte cheaping out with that store brand detergent.”

“Still have cable TV? Why don’t you switch to satellite like your more successful neighbor, dumb ass.”

Is this any way to attract new customers? Are insults and degradation the right tack when it comes to improving your brand awareness? Most would say no (except those boneheads who drive Dodge trucks. Ha! Just kidding).

So what’s up with the radio ads being run by a local credit union extolling the virtues of selecting “credit” over “debit” when you use your check card? If you select “debit,” the ads say, you’re a pinhead.

I get it, they’re trying to allude to the PIN you have to enter when you use your debit card as a debit card. Still, calling your own customers pinheads is just wrong. And the commercial goes to great lengths to suggest that anyone who’s STUPID enough to use their debit card as a debit card probably couldn’t find their own asses with two hands (I’m paraphrasing).

Why does this credit union feel it needs to shame customers into choosing “credit” over “debit?” The answer is easy if you follow the money.

When you choose “credit,” your transaction goes through a different system than “debit.” Credit transactions are run through the credit card system’s financial network, which charges the merchant a fee.

Bob Wire is Zippy the Existential Clown.

"Credit or debit? Why, that's a trenchant existential inquiry worthy of examination by Sartre, or even Nietzsche himself."

For the financial institution that issues the credit card, this is a huge source of peripheral income (by “peripheral” I mean nicking the merchant for using their card. Some merchants charge the consumer a direct fee to do this, but most just recoup their costs by raising prices). Of course, the banks have to pay for those phony reward points and cash-back benefits somehow.

When you run your card as a debit, you punch in your PIN and you can get cash back. This is very convenient for people like me, who do the majority of their banking at grocery store checkouts. The debit transaction posts to my checking account almost instantaneously, so by the time I get home with the groceries and log on to my account, I can immediately begin regretting my impulsive purchase of that five-pound can of macadamia nuts and the frozen lobster egg rolls.

Look, banks and credit unions bleed us one way or another. Bait-and-switch APR games, balance transfer back-end fees, overdraft protection vigorish, and ATM charges are just a few of the ways we pay these outfits to access our own money.

Banks are doing so well that new construction of monstrous new bank buildings is outpaced only by that of churches. I’m cynical enough to accept that they will skim off some of my money in return for the .00002 percent interest they heap on my savings account. It’s the cost of doing business, and not having to dig a new hole in my backyard every couple of weeks to hide my spinach.

But do they have to bite the hand that feeds them by hurling naked insults at their customers on the radio?

Here’s a true story: A few years ago I was on the second hole at Larchmont, searching for my wayward drive in an adjacent fairway. I heard a distant “Fore!” but by the time I spotted the source, the ball arrived.

It struck me in the back of the left hand, snapping my metacarpal bone. I was driven to the hospital ER, where an X-ray was taken. The radiologist identified the fracture, but for some reason the attending physician didn’t get that information. He told me to just ice it, and try to do something about my slice. Yuck yuck. Snort.

Two weeks later, I was dropping an ear of Benson’s corn into a plastic bag when the bone came apart. The pain, instant and exotic, drove me to my knees. A few days later a visit to a hand surgeon confirmed that all those extra knuckles on my hand were actually a compound fracture.

The x-ray looked like a cartoon of a broken hand. The surgeon got me in the next morning, and he had to put in all kinds of screws, plates, and what feels like a small turnbuckle. I would probably play guitar again, he said, but good luck trying to barre a G chord.

If they had caught the original fracture in the ER, they would have given me a cast on the spot and my hand would have healed in six weeks, good as new. But since the broken bone dislocated and began to heal improperly, the whole thing became an expensive mess. So, bandaged hand in a sling, I went to visit a lawyer. The lawyer insisted that I sue the hospital.

“I don’t know,” I told him. “It’s not like I’m out to score a big payday, I just want them to pay for the surgery. And maybe a few golf lessons. Maybe I’ll just talk to them myself.”

I don’t know if you’ve seen “Breaking Bad,” but one of the best characters is Saul Goodman, a sleazy personal injury lawyer who specializes in laundered money and strong-arm thuggery. This guy made Saul look like Mary Poppins.

“If you go in there on your own, you’re a moron,” he said, cleaning his nails with a subscription card from Ostentatious Yacht Magazine. “If you try to negotiate this settlement yourself, you’re bringing a knife to a gunfight. We need to go after these people. They were reckless. Look at your hand, Bob! It’ll probably be a useless claw once it heals up. Sure, this’ll turn everyone at the hospital against you, but you’ll wind up with a sizeable settlement. Lemme see that hand again. Ooh, gross.”

Well, I don’t like being called a moron, and I certainly don’t like being pulled aboard a runaway train of greed and avarice. So I told the guy I’d think about it, then went straight home and took three showers.

In the end, I met with the high mucky mucks at the hospital and they admitted their culpability in the ER communication failure. The incident actually led to some changes in their radiology protocol. And when I explained to the risk management people (both women) that my wife had to do all the dishes because my hand was useless for two months, they offered to not only pay for the surgery and physical therapy, but threw in a new Kenmore dishwasher as well. Seriously.

So if you want to get potential clients or customers to use your product or service, don’t call people names. Try to give the general public credit for having some intelligence and some dignity.

Even if you’re advertising on a radio station that plays Nickelback.


Wanna laugh ’til your sides hurt? These ought to do the trick: Bob Wire’s State of the UnionSnow Daze, and The Facebook IPO: What’s Not to Dislike?.

   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blog archive.


Bob Wire uses the same spray tanner as John Boehner.

Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers.