Tag Archives: the sun

Valentine’s Day retailers say it with flawed surveys

It’s February 14th, and in accordance with tradition the nation will be heaving tonight with the sounds of relationships the country over being consumated. Specifically, the relationships between PR agencies and their satisfied clients, as retailers and businesses cash in on the Valentine’s Day media free-for-all.

While the exploitation of the most commercial of the Hallmark Holidays is nothing new, 2013 certainly hasn’t let the side down – the first rains of the Valentine’s PR monsoon falling as early as January, with pioneering research into the evolution of the pet name (Daily Mail, January 28th) published in the Daily Mail:

Move over darling! Old-fashioned favourite beaten into third place as babe and baby become Britain’s top terms of endearment

The research found that terms of affection such as ‘darling’ and ‘sweetheart’ have been superseded by more modern and streamline pet-names like ‘baby’ and ‘love’ (both of which were actually only invented in the year 2000 as part of Britain’s preparations for the Millennium Bug). These findings have far-reaching implications, according to the researchers – who coincidentally are a sex toy retailer named after two common pet names:

Lovehoney co-founder Neal Slateford said: ‘The ways pet names have changed over the years show we are getting even more affectionate towards each other and a little less formal.

‘As a nation, we are learning to lighten up when it comes to love and sex. That has to be a good thing.’

If I were an online sex toy retailer, I’m sure I’d find ample reason to agree. Still, that the survey produced media-friendly results of potential benefit to the company carrying out the research should in no way undermine the credibility of this online, self-reported and entirely-subjective poll, even as further findings from this PR exercise are explained:

And while the British might have a reputation for being unromantic, the poll found that the opposite is true, with 72 per cent saying that Valentine’s Day is a great excuse to show a partner how much they appreciate them.

If anybody is still unsure how to show a partner how much they’re appreciated, a Mr Slateford at Lovehoney.co.uk has a number of expensive suggestions for you. Or perhaps you could always turn to vibrator vendors ‘Desire and Pleasure’, whose own online self-promotional pseudo-research was featured in The Sun (The Sun, February 7th):

CASH-strapped Brits are shunning expensive romantic nights out this Valentine’s Day — and stocking up on SEX TOYS instead, a survey claims.

The unromantic reputation of Britons was similarly noted by British tourist board ‘Visit Britain’, who pointed out (Daily Mail, February 10th):

Britain ‘too stuffy’ to host romantic visit as Italy and France is preferred by tourists

While we may be too stuffy to be romantic, we’re not too stupid to recognise reverse psychology. The lack of romance in modern-day Britain is clearly an area fraught with controversy, with a study published by Interflora insisting that Britons are a nation of romantics who fall in love at first sight (Daily Mail, February 6th), with one in five Brits positive the best way to declare new-found love is with a nice bunch of flowers. If only they could find a suitable florist.

While there’s clearly some rigorous academic dispute over the romance levels of the average Brit, at least one thing is certain – somewhere in Britain can be arbitrarily declared as more romantic than everywhere else. After all, in any closed set with random variance, there has to be an upper and lower limit – and what better way to highlight normal statistical distribution than by letting people know you sell perfume (Daily Mail, February 1st)?

When it comes to Valentine’s gifts, we’ve an abundance of research – each piece diligently compiled by online survey companies using questions written very carefully by PR companies on behalf of businesses aiming to use Valentine’s Day to secure column inches. Voucher website Groupon, for example, revealed flowers and chocolates just don’t cut it (The Sun, February 12th), and instead a gifts need to be memorable – rather like one of the experiences you can buy inexpensively on voucher websites like Groupon. And heaven help you if you get last-minute flowers from a petrol station – voucher website NetVoucherCodes.co.uk have research proving such an idea is a no-no (Daily Mail, February 11th).

On the other hand, as retailer Debenham’s helpfully researched, it’d be a good idea to buy the lady in your life some ‘posh knickers’ (Daily Mail, February 6th). Or perhaps you should take part in the British Heart Foundation’s charity initiative to write your partner a love note – after all, the BHF’s own research proves women prefer a simple, thoughtful gesture to an expensive gift anyway (Daily Mail, February 12th). But remember to buy your mistress something nice, too (Daily Mail, February 12th) – an extramarital dating website has research which says this is wise.

For those in long-term relationships, Valentine’s Day isn’t necessarily all department-store knickers and online vouchers – there are innumerable pitfalls into which the unsuspecting lover could fall. Fortunately, there’s a wealth of PR-led research with commercially-valuable conclusions to guide an impressionable couple – with advice from MSN to avoid relationship-killing public display of affection (Daily Mail, February 12th) and data produced by internet security experts McAfee (Daily Mail, February 5th) proving that not only are your exes cyber-stalking you, but that those explicit photos on your smartphone are vulnerable to being hacked unless you can find an expert willing to sell you internet security. Even married couples aren’t safe from the relationship curse, with research proving that excitement, romance, sex and affection are dead in the water after three and a half years of marriage (The Telegraph, February 9th) – that the data was gathered by Co-op Foods probably has nothing at all to do with their Valentine’s Meal Deal and associated ad campaign.

Of course, if all else fails, you could always opt for the free Valentine’s Day Divorce (Daily Mail, February 12th). After all, there’s only 365 days left until Valentine’s Day – and there’s a hell of a lot of spurious, commercially-driven and scientifically-worthless online surveys to fill in before then.

Originally published in The Guardian, 14 February 2013

“Smart Irish people sell their unwanted gifts to make cash!” says Irish classified listings website

Are you Irish? And struggling to know what to do with those unwanted Christmas gifts? The Sun and The Independent have some not-too-subtle PR-led advice for you:

Passed the parcel

NEARLY a quarter of Irish adults have sold unwanted gifts online to make some extra cash in January, a report found.

The practice is becoming increasingly common as post-Christmas blues make this the year’s tightest month.

Source: The Irish Sun, 3 January 2013

One in four sells festive gifts online

Almost a quarter of Irish adults admit to selling unwanted presents online in order to earn some extra cash in January.

According to a new survey, the practice of selling unwanted gifts online is becoming increasingly popular among Irish adults, with younger adults “substantially” more likely to engage in the practice.

Source: The Irish Independent, 3 January 2013

Good to know there’s money to be made from unwanted gifts, but if you were looking to heed this sterling advice and cash in on the generosity of your loved ones, where could you possibly head? Fortunately, both newspapers carry the name of the company which commissioned the research:

According to the survey, almost three in five adults would now consider buying second-hand gifts online in order to save money in the future. DoneDeal.ie CEO John Warburton said: “It’s great to see so many people are now buying and selling online in Ireland.

“Why leave those unwanted gifts languishing in the back of your wardrobe gathering dust when you can sell them online and make some cash for yourself?

That would be DoneDeal, ‘Ireland’s biggest classified listings site’.

“People should remember to make a resolution to go to the gym!” says gym chain

At the turn of the year, with people around the country making their traditional New Year’s Resolution, one resolution which was sadly lacking was a pledge from the tabloids to ditch the PR churnalism. Which is a roundabout and clumsy way of introducing this ‘research’ published in the Telegraph (and also paper editions of the Daily Express and The Sun):

Traditional New Year resolutions shunned in favour of reading and saving money

Traditional New Year resolutions such as quitting smoking have been replaced by modern life changes like reading more and saving money, a study has revealed.

New technology and healthier lifestyles mean three quarters of Britons have scrapped “old fashioned” vows relating to smoking, alcohol and exercise.

Current top resolutions are reading more books and saving money, the poll of 2,000 people found.

Source: The Telegraph, 30 December 2012

The article went on to list all of the extravagant new resolutions people are making at the expense of more ‘traditional’ resolutions – with ‘read more books’ topping the list of fancy modern newfangled ways of self-improvement. Bafflingly.

However, what follows is a cautionary tale, reminding us that while we may have all had our heads turned by those shiny new book things, we ought to remember the importance of traditional resolutions – such as losing weight and getting more exercise. These are vital, imperative things to strive for, according to the entirely-impartial company behind the research – gym chain LA Fitness. 

Tony Orme, Marketing Director at LA fitness said: “The traditional resolutions we’re used to hearing or even making ourselves are less prominent this year.

“But it’s important to remember that taking time to exercise and eating a balanced, healthy diet not only give you more energy, but they also help to manage stress levels.”

It’s quite apparent, then, that this is simply a press release to advertise a gym chain at a time when many people tend to vow to get back into shape after a winter of excesses. In fact, the ‘research’ took the form of an online poll run by our friends at 72 Point’s Onepoll, who show the press release in full on their website.

If the quote from Tony Orme weren’t enough to convince the reader of the importance of using the service that Tony Orme sells, there are plenty of other subtle clues, such as:

The biggest aims Britons shared were to feel physically fitter, followed by less stress, and feeling happier and more secure overall.

Two thirds aim to improve their fitness in the coming year and improve their body confidence.

And, if even that were too subtle for the tubby Telegraph reader to take the hint, the article goes into all-out advertorial mode soon after:

LA fitness has launched its New Year Health Resolutions Campaign across its 80 private health clubs, with a half price membership offer for those signing up in January for 2013.

The service also included 24-hour online support service for members to help motivate them beyond the first month of joining the club – ranging from work/life balance to how to mix up diet and exercise to develop an ongoing fitness routine.

On the plus side, with the time Greg Walton of the Telegraph saved in churning out this story based on 68% of the original press release, I’m sure he was able to squeeze in an extra session at LA Fitness that day…

“Men want and need plastic surgery!” says plastic surgeon

A great rule of thumb for getting your nonsense PR pushed into the media as if it had any value is to run with whatever’s likely to be on people’s minds at any given time (even if it’s only on people’s minds because of the actions of other PR types). In the run up to Christmas PR focuses on who needs to buy who what, whereas in January, it’s all about the self-improvement.

Which is why it’s no great surprise that the Daily Mail and The Sun told us of the scores of men aiming to fix the flaws with their physique in January:

Moob operations up 28% in a year as men are spurred on by buff bodies of Olympic athletes 
– Number of man boob operations has doubled in the last five years

The number of men going under the knife to get rid of their so-called man boobs has increased by 28 per cent in the last year, new statistics show.

Man boobs – or moobs – as they are known, are the bane of many men’s lives, with high-profile sufferers including Ricky Gervais and Simon Cowell.

Excessive development of male breasts – also known as gynaecomastia – is thought to affect 40 per cent of men and it seems the proportion is rising.

Source: Daily Mail, 7 January 2013

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Mooby blues see ops soar

THE number of men seeking a moob reduction surged 28 per cent in the last 12 months, figures reveal.

Requests for the £2,670 operation soared as blokes try to ditch their man boobs like TV’s James Corden for tidy pecs like David Beckham.

And surgeons say demand rocketed further after the Olympics with Brits keen to copy the bodies of Team GB heroes including Tom Daley and Louis Smith.

Source: The Sun, 7 January 2013

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We’re helpfully told how large and widespread a problem the issue is – with ‘sufferers’ of the ‘condition’ numbering as many as four in ten men. Also, helpfully, we’re given the names of celebrity figures who aren’t sufferers, including Olympic sportsmen and film stars, complete with pictures so that afflicted men can see what they ought to look like. Which is very helpful.

These tactics are not new, of course – they’re staple feed for women’s magazines – but the comparable negative effect on the body image of the male population is often overlooked.

Of course, this is nothing but a piece of advertising, so who might have an interest in making 40% of men feel bad about their bodies (not to mention those men who are perfectly happy with their ‘moobs’ but conscious about one of the other cosmetic complaints listed)?

Pat Dunion, boss of surgery group Transform, said: “Man boobs can be difficult to shift using exercise alone.

“More and more men who are feeling self conscious about the size of their chest area are turning to chest reduction surgery — also known as gynaecomastia — to overcome their problem and boost their confidence.”

With articles such as these – simple adverts for a cosmetic surgery touting for business – it’s little wonder that many men will be feeling self conscious. And just in any female readers women are feeling unvictimised by the group, never fear, we have a story for you, too:

Popular? You nose it: Duchess of Cambridge’s nose is the most requested plastic surgery procedure

What did you wish for this Christmas? Socks, a new DVD player – or perhaps even a new nose?!

The Duchess of Cambridge has the most sought-after nose, with women requesting rhinoplasty in the shape of her nose, more than any other celebrity facial part. It was popular last year, but this year, the number of women requesting her nose has trebled.

Source: The Independent, 28 December 2012

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As it happens, the appearance of Transform in the news in January was no surprise: not only is it the perfect time to capitalise on people’s increased focus on physique in the post-new-year gym rush, it’s also the time of the year Transform traditionally strike. Take, for example, this from the Daily Express in 2011:

HIDE THE SCALES, TODAY’S NATIONAL FAT DAY

TODAY is officially the UK’s “Fat Day” – the one Britons will feel at their heaviest and make the life-changing decision to take drastic measures to shed the pounds.

It comes as research reveals that the average woman piled on a massive 11lbs over the festive season, which is almost a stone – and an entire dress size.

Source: Daily Express, 17 January 2011

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Are the stories true? Possibly, possibly not – all we can say is that they’re placed into the media by a cosmetic surgery firm who want to tell you how bad you feel about how you look, in ways which their services can happily fix for you.

“Facebook makes people be honest!” says company with famously honest slogan

Say what you like about social media (and by now, PR companies promoting their clients in the media pretty much have) but there appear to be advantages to using Facebook, if The Sun is to be believed, which it never is:

Facebook makes us lie less – because everyone sees what we’re up to anyway

FACEBOOK forces us to be more truthful, says a new study, because everyone knows what we’re up to.

More than a third of users (36 per cent) say they now tell fewer white lies, for fear of getting caught out.

Millions of people share their diaries, photos and so much personal info on social media that it’s increasingly difficult to fib.

Source: The Sun, 20 November 2012

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This would be an interesting study, if indeed it was a study – however, instead, it’s yet another PR piece churned out by internet pollsters OnePoll on behalf of their client – the woodstain product which is so honest is ‘does what it says on the tin’: Ronseal. 

We can be certain that this was a PR piece, as it’s easily tracked back to Ronseal’s PR agency – Brazen PR:

Often when these PR pieces come up, the initial reaction can be: “Well, perhaps the information is true? It sounds plausible…”. Indeed, even in this case, the notion that sharing our lives online makes us more honest makes a superficial level of sense. However, consider this: the poll was an online survey. Which is to say, the headline could reasonably read ‘People online tell us they’re honest online’. The methodological flaw here ought to be apparent: if people actually lie a lot more online, they’ll lie in your online survey.

Of course, this flaw doesn’t matter to Ronseal or to OnePoll – they got their name into the news, and that’s the only thing that matters.

“Young people suck at DIY!” says home insurance company

The youth of today simply aren’t as good as the previous generation, we hear all the time, from companies who feel such a message provides a useful vehicle for getting their brand name into the media. Take, for instance:

Today’s youths aren’t switched on enough to change a lightbulb

BRITISH youngsters are not such bright sparks when it comes to DIY – with one in six clueless about how to change a LIGHTBULB, according to a new study.

As young Brits spend ever longer living at home with their parents, the ability to carry out basic DIY seems to have taken a dive.

A staggering 63 per cent of 18-to-24-year-olds admitted they couldn’t bleed a radiator, while a further 58 per cent wouldn’t know how to change a fuse.

Source: The Sun, 15 November 2012

NOW THE YOUNG ARE DIY DUNCES

Two-thirds do not know how to turn off a water supply, a survey of 18 to 24-year-olds found. Almost as many are unable to change a fuse.

Source: Daily Express, 16 November 2012

As ever, the information may or may not be correct, but that isn’t really the point – the only point here is that somebody wanted to get their name into the press, and felt this would be a useful way of doing so. And who was that someone?

Jonathan King, of HomeServe, said: “These results appear to show that for many young people, learning DIY skills is no longer a priority.

“For many who live at home with parents, fixing things may not be of great concern but sooner or later these are skills that will be relied upon.”

That would be Homeserve, the home insurance company.

“All the cool kids go abroad loads!” says airline firm

British people are more adventurous than ever before, according to new ‘research’. And how exactly does this spirit of adventure manifest itself? From The Daily Express, November 9th 2012:

SURGE IN OVERSEAS TRIPS

THE average adult will travel more than 18,000 miles around the world by the age of 40 – nearly seven times as far as their parents.

A study yesterday revealed the typical 40-year-old has been on at least 13 holidays abroad and 21 in the UK while their parents would have only visited five European countries, clocking up 2,653 miles.

Source: Daily Express, 9th November 2012

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And similarly from the Daily Mail on December 1st 2012:

Adventurous Britons travel seven times further than their parents did by the same age

The average Briton will travel 18,324 miles by the time they reach 40 – almost seven times as far as their parents did by the same age.

Researchers found that on turning 40, the typical adult will have been on at least 13 holidays abroad and another 21 in the UK. 

While today’s Brits are travelling to far flung destinations with their families, on average the previous generation travelled only as far as Italy.

Research shows travellers today are becoming more and more adventurous, with seven in 10 choosing destinations where they can experience unknown cultures and sights.

Source: Daily Mail, 1st December 2012

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The same story also made, at least, the paper editions of The Sun and The Daily Star, as well as the paper edition of the Daily Mail.

While it may well be true that people of the current generation travel more than their parents (in face it’s almost guaranteed to be true), as ever the source of the information is vital in figuring out why this research made the news. 

The poll by British Airways High Life magazine found travellers are increasingly adventurous, with seven in 10 choosing destinations where they can experience unknown cultures and sights.

The research came from British Airways, who have something of a vested interest in promoting the fact that people travel by planes an awful lot.

The research was carried out by polling company One Poll, part of the 72 Point PR company.

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Looking into the press release fully, and it becomes clear what angle British Airways are pushing: ‘to be part of ‘Generation Curious’ you must be adventurous, and jet-set to far flung places of the world… and British Airways will take you there, including to our selected hottest places to travel in 2013’. 

The Churnalism rating? The Daily Mail article took 88% of the original press release,  while Nathan Rao of the Express contributed barely a word, taking 78% of his short article from the BA press release.

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“Scientists find the formula for the perfect pint!” says pub chain who paid those scientists

What factors go into creating the perfect beer? It’s an age-old question, if you believe The Sun and the Daily Mail, who both declared the search for the ultimate tipple was over, after scientists (or ‘Beer Boffins’ according to The Sun) discovered the formula to creating the perfect pint:

How to pour the perfect pint: Scientists devise complex formula for ale lovers (though following it after you’ve had a few could be tricky)

Scientists claim to have cracked the code of every drinker’s dreams – what makes a perfect pint.

Based on surroundings, music volume and the number of drinking partners, researchers have devised a formula that can calculate what makes a perfect pint for any given individual.

The equation also takes into account the availability of snacks, the ambient room temperature, and the number of days until you are required back at work.

Source: Daily Mail, 19 October 2012

Scientists discover formula for the perfect pint… And they had supped around 1,000 drinks along the way!

BEER boffins reckon they’ve finally discovered the secret of the perfect pint

For centuries, Brits have debated what it is about a favourite tipple that makes it stand out from the rest. Now experts reckon they have finally cracked it – after asking 1,000 volunteers around the country to take part in a mass survey for brewers Taylor Walker.

The result is a mathematical formula that takes into account everything from pub ambience to the time of day and what snacks are available in your local boozer at the time you consume the pint.

Source: The Sun, 19 October 2012

So far, so good – and the formula produced certainly looks like science: 

E = -(0.62T2 + 39.2W2 + 62.4P2) + (21.8T + 184.4W + 395.4P + 94.5M – 90.25V) + 50(S + F + 6.4)*

But what does this actually mean? Handily we’re provided a helpful key:

T = The ambient temperature in degrees Celsius 

W = The number of days until you are required back at work

P = The number of people with whom you are drinking 

M = Related to your mood whilst drinking the pint 

V = Related to the volume of the music being played

S and F are related to the availability of snacks and food.

Decoding the formula, we can see that the ‘beer boffins’ have concluded that the perfect pint occurs when a drinker is in pub is of ambient temperature with snacks available, where the music isn’t too loud, with lots of people around (but not too many), at a time when the drinker has a large number of days until having to go back to work.

Those beer boffins, how DO they do it?

Still, that said, just because the formula matches what we might come up with ourselves with a moment to think about it, doesn’t make it false, right? Well, no – but it might make it irrelevant, especially if the source was less than genuine…

The complex formula was devised after researchers polled 1,000 volunteers from up and down the country on what conditions they preferred when drinking their pint.

Dr David Lewis, who calculated the formula at Mindlab on behalf of pub chain Taylor Walker, said: ‘Following all of our research we developed a formula for the perfect pint.

In fact, the formula was commissioned by a pub chain – presumably to then declare that they not only know how to make the perfect pint, but that a pint in their pub is scientifically guaranteed to be the perfect pint.

As for the survey of 1,000 volunteers from up and down the country – the article certainly makes it sound like these volunteers had to visit many pubs, sample many drinks and really put themselves through their paces before offering their opinions, doesn’t it? After all, as The Sun declared:

…and they had supped around 1,000 drinks along the way!

So what was the research methodology carried out by these scientists? It was… an online poll via friends of the site OnePoll:

So much for volunteers, and so much for legitimate research.

And what of Dr David Lewis, the scientist behind the research? What role do they, and their so-called ‘Mindlab‘ play? How much legitimacy do we have there?

At Mindlab International we provide cutting-edge insight into the behaviour of individuals in a wide range of situations.

Our proprietary Neurometrix2 technology will allow you to make better informed business decisions, improve sales and enhance brand efficiency.

In other words, Mindlab may be scientists, but they’re very clearly also a brand and market research company, masquerading behind the banner of scientific legitimacy. And they have form – from this year in the Daily Mail alone:

The point here is clear – while the formula Mindlab were paid by a brewery to come up with may describe reality, and may fit in with what we know, that doesn’t make it real science. When the source is so clearly commercially-motivated, and the goal is to achieve publicity, discussing the merits of the research is to be taken in by the smoke and mirrors of the trick. The only story here is that Taylor Walker and Mindlab wanted to get headlines, and they succeeded.

“Wear a nice pink cotton shirt, you’ll make more money!” says cotton spokesperson

According to the Daily Mail:

The power of pink: Men who wear shirts of that colour earn £1,000 a year more than those who don’t

– Men who wear pink also tend to be confident and get more compliments from female colleagues

– Research also found men in white are most punctual, while those in blue have the least work romances

Men who wear pink shirts to work earn more and are better qualified than those who favour traditional colours such as white or blue, it has emerged.

Researchers also found men who wear pink are more likely to get compliments from female colleagues and are more confident characters in the office.

The story was also picked up by The Independent and The Telegraph. Who were the researchers undertaking this valuable research?
 
Stephanie Thiers-Ratcliffe, International Marketing Manager for Cotton USA, which commissioned the study, said: ‘You can tell a lot about someone by the colour they wear.
It isn’t hard to see why a cotton spokesperson might have an interest in reminding us of the value of a nice cotton shirt.
 
Unsurprisingly, the research was carried out by OnePoll – the polling company behind almost every dodgy survey story you’ll see, and a company who have such more work published in the Daily Mail they’re practically on retainer. Here’s the press release on their parent company’s website:
 
Plugging the press release into Churnalism.com, it’s clear that the Daily Mail’s David Baker had a laid-back morning on the 22nd, taking a whopping 84% of his article directly from the press release. Not too far behind him was Mark Reynolds of the Daily Express, who took 67% of his article from the press release.
 
As for the so-called research, the findings have a near-astrological feel: 
 
One in four men feels more attractive in a pink shirt and those who frequently wear purple or lilac have the most office romances, while those who prefer blue have the least.
 
Men who wear pink are also twice as likely to have a Master’s degree than those who favour white shirts, with one in ten pink shirt wearers having a PHD.
The report also found men who favour shirts with green tones are the most likely to be late for work, whilst white shirt fans are the most punctual, the survey found.
And if you are trying for a promotion then it’s best to dress in a purple shirt, it emerged.
So it may well be that the colour of your shirt dictates certain attributes about your life… or it may well be that if you ask enough questions, you’ll gather enough data to be able to mine your way to a raft of meaningless conclusions.
 
Also, can you spot the glaring flaw? I’ll give you a hint: since when did anyone ever wear the same shirt colour every day…?

“Women will have sex with you if you have a nice kitchen!” says kitchen company

November 21st, 2012

Sometimes, Bad PR debunks and exposes itself, with little or no work from me. Take, for instance, this from The Sun:

How to get steamy in the kitchen

KITCHENS are fast becoming the UK’s hottest rooms, with 45 per cent of British women saying they feel aroused by a man’s granite worktops and designer toaster.

A survey by B&Q found women fancy a bloke more if their kitchen is nicely kitted out.

Source: The Sun

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Kitchen furniture company says women get turned on by a man with a nice kitchen?

Nothing further to add, your honour.