The website in question is really just a front for a company called Experian, a US-based credit reporting business. In 1980, the UK-based company CCN Systems, another credit reporting group, was owned by Great Universal Stores, a massive UK retailer founded in 1900. For years, CCN did their best to monitor credit for its customers, working with a system that differed fundamentally from the credit system in the United States. However, in 1996, Great Universal Stores decided to reach across the pond and dip into a more global presence, acquiring Experian and merging it with CCN. Because Experian is a more scary business sounding name, the fused credit monster retained this moniker.
In 2001, Great Universal Stores shortened its name to the new-millenium-friendly acronym GUS. At this point, approximately 10% of its 50,000+ employees worked for Experian. As the credit reporting market grew, so did the company’s advertising presence. By 2005, the company had hired the best advertising agency in the business, and soon had a catchy jingle that stuck out in the minds of everyone that watched Judge Judy at 4:30 PM on weekdays. It went like this:
FREEEEEEE CRE-DIT RE-POOORT DOOOT COOOOOOOM!
Many an innocent television consumer was left replaying the ultra-catchy tune in their heads day after day. Ultimately, the URL being sung on a loop in heads everywhere led a curious few to actually visit the website. Some even signed up for and received their free credit report as promised by the Experian marketing campaign.
That same year, Experian was sued by the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive marketing practices. The charges included misleading claims about offers the company claimed were free, but ended up being something in the ballpark of $40 per month services. Experian settled by returning approximately $950,000 of free credit monitoring for the individuals who had signed up for the supposedly “free service.” However, by this point the company was generating so much money that they were running on a $72 million annual advertising budget, so the million dollars in free services was not nearly enough to take the credit goliath down. It forged on.
Not even a second related investigation by the state of Florida’s Attorney General in 2006 was enough to shame Experian into backing down. MSNBC tried to intervene around the same time, but its findings that declared the company an outright scam had little to no impact on the general public. Experian’s massive advertising campaign not only thrived, it grew—monstrously.
Meanwhile, up in Canada, a nearly anonymous actor named Eric Violette was toiling away in the annals of the theater, portraying many a French historical figure in his native Montreal. Then one day, on a chance audition from the Martin Agency calling for actor/musicians, Violette landed the role of a down-on-his-luck guy who was the victim of credit card fraud. The commercial called for him to sing a catchy jingle which included the words “Free Credit Report Dot Com.” However, his French-Canadian accent proved unmarketable in the United States, so the commercial—and all subsequent commercials—were overdubbed by an unnamed American singer. The commercial was a major success, and Violette was called back to create more credit-related masterpieces.
Eight commercials later, Violette and the two bandmates from his commercials were internationally known; they had spanned nine different genres, from rock to hip hop, and brought joy to the lives of millions who signed up for a scam and had their accounts steadily drained for months on end. The campaign reached unprecedented levels of notoriety as people anxiously awaited to see what Eric and his band would bring to them next.
Dozens of parodies appeared online, most of which were homemade and posted on Youtube. However, a few high-budget parodies were created, including an entire MADtv skit based on the commercials. The FTC, Experian’s biggest critic, even created their own PSAs that parodied the commercials—to remind everyone that they can already get a “no-strings-attached” free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com.
In 2009, the Credit CARD Act specifically mentioned FreeCreditReport.com in a section addressing any companies that offer a “free credit report” in advertisements. All such commercials must now include this statement:
This is not the free credit report provided for by Federal law.
In addition to this, the act requires those same advertisers, despite advertising a free credit report, to remind viewers that they can get a free credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com. This last little bit—requiring Experian to advertise for its effective competitor within their own commercials—pushed the company over the edge.
In early 2010 they dropped FreeCreditReport.com as a major advertising focus and fired the band. It was time to move in a completely different direction. Experian began a highly publicized search for a new jingle-delivering band to be the face of the advertisements, which would now be for a completely different website—FreeCreditScore.com.
The auditions served to raise awareness that Experian was shifting from long-winded credit reports to the more brevity-conscious credit scores that could be related in a much more efficient manner. MTV, among other media outlets, covered the auditions extensively as they traveled from New York to Los Angeles, landing in Chicago, following the competition through to the finals. The four final bands were announced after the Major League Baseball’s All Star Game that year, and the American public voted for the winners. In the end, the victorious band was none other than Detroit indies The Victorious Secrets.
It didn’t take long for the much-anticipated first commercial to air; The Victorious Secrets delivered their jingle with vigor, truly capturing the hearts of their audience. Written by the Martin Agency’s Dave Muhlenfeld, the band merely plays the songs while they work on their full-length album, rolling in the $10,000 cash prize awarded to them for winning the competition.
Later that year, in a completely industry-bullshit-free independent decision, the band realized that their clever pun of a moniker could no longer reflect the serious tone of their musicianship. They mutually decided that it would be much better to change their name, and promptly requested to be known as the American Secrets. Said guitarist Byron Rossi:
“Some very close personal friends of the band strongly suggested we change our name. We decided to take their advice and are now moving forward into the great wide open of the glorious unknown as The American Secrets...and we intend to rock people like the proverbial ‘hurricane’ while doing it.”
Halfway through 2011, the band has completed two commercials for FreeCreditScore.com, have a show lined up for the end of July, and have released a self-titled album via iTunes. Eric Violette continues to act, and has his own band, God Against God. Meanwhile, Experian has been hanging out in the background, growing like an awesome melanoma on the skin of the Earth, announcing a 13% increase in profits this past quarter. This story’s not over.
This story is factual to the best of my knowledge and is therefore proclaimed as “true.” Any embellishments are added purely for satirical purposes. This story used the following references with the purpose of being as accurate as possible:
Credit Report and Credit History | Free Credit Report
Home of the FreeCreditScore.com Band!
Marketer of “Free Credit Reports” Settles FTC Charges
MSNBC: Florida AG investigates FreeCreditReport.com
MSNBC: Many free credit reports still aren't free
The American Secrets
The New York Times: A Free Credit Score Followed by a Monthly Bill
The Victorious Secrets Named New FreeCreditScore.com Band
The Victorious Secrets Change Their Name Follow @torqtorq