Definition of Bait and Switch
Although bait and switch advertising schemes may not always seem immediately obvious, chances are that the majority of consumers have been- or will be- lured into stores by such ploys at some point in life. In many ways, bait and switch as a selling mechanism is a staple of any consumer-driven society, but what many buyers are unaware of is that the tactic, under certain circumstances, is prohibited against by law.
While bait and switch is usually a phrase used to describe the general idea of luring consumers into a store based on advertisements of low-priced products (the bait) only to have those products either unavailable, or, to simply disregard the products altogether in hopes of selling more costly products (the switch), for the gimmick to be considered illegal, specific proof must be provided of the seller's deliberate intent to defraud.
In most bait and switch scenarios, a retail establishment will advertise a special "unbelievable!" sale of a product in order to first and foremost get buyers into that establishment; this is ultimately the first success of the seller. Once the buyers are actually in the store, a variety of reasons may be given as to why the product is no longer a feasible buying option, but instead, sellers will try and get those buyers to purchase a "better" and more expensive product.
In theory, because of the disappointment which results on behalf of that product unavailability, the consumer will be more apt to buy a substitute, or, for that matter, anything. It is with this latter notion that the sellers have undoubtedly won, particularly because the advertised product may not have been available to begin with.
Legality of Bait and Switch
Just because a retailer attempts to upsell products by luring consumers in with an exceptionally low (and typically, very limited) sale price does not necessarily make that establishment guilty of fraud by any means, though.
For the bait and switch practice- often specifically called bait advertisement- to be considered true to "false advertising," and consequently, for a particular seller or manufacturer to have fraud charges brought against the greater company, there must be first, an advertisement which proves that the terms of the advertised sale did not comply with the actual product sale, and second, proof that the seller has showed "no intent or want" to sell the advertised product.
Although consumer protection laws may vary from state to state, the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, highlights the main bait and switch selling tactics which are punishable as fraud. In the most basic sense, such tactics revolve around the notion that sellers may not dismiss the sale of an advertised product for one of greater value unless a range of bait and switch advertisement regulations are met.
Bait and switch tactics are primarily noted for their use within the retail field, but that does not mean that the idea behind the practice is not applied to other fields, like politics. In fact, the relationship between advertisement and politics should make the notion of political bait and switch one to be expected. While bait and switch ploys can essentially be translated onto many political fields, the most common political adaptation of the phrase relates to "caption bills."
What such bills aim to do, essentially, is to raise support (the "bait")for a particular bill passage- in general, the bill in question is usually fairly broad in nature, as to allow for further and more specific elaboration later- and then, once the bill gains momentum and gets passed, the most important details are relayed into writing (the "switch"), often changing the idea behind the bill drastically- ones which could have resulted in a denied passage of the bill to begin with.