Tag Archives: false advertising

Health Kwest: A Major, Inexcusable Embarrassment for Genghis Grill

by Pearson Hurst

Ok, so Health Kwest is over. I didn’t win, and I’m kind of glad now that I know the lengths the winner went to. More on that in a bit. Pearson Hurst   When I first heard about Health Kwest, I thought it was a fantastic idea, and just the kind of motivation I needed to lose some weight and get back to a healthier lifestyle. As a child, teenager and into my 20s, I had been thin, fit and active, but as the realities of adulthood, a career and parenthood became the focus of my life, fitness, activity and a slim figure slowly slipped away, and I wanted them back!

While I was indeed successful at losing a fair bit of weight, becoming more active, and eating a much healthier diet, Health Kwest wasn’t what I expected. Before the contest even officially started, I should have seen what was coming. There were problems from the very beginning. Admittedly small ones, but they were just a sign of things to come. After being selected as a contestant, I received an email from Jackie Heath, Genghis Grill’s Social Media/PR Marketing Manager welcoming me to the contest, and including several sets of instructions. As this was an official communication for Genghis Grill, I was somewhat surprised to see that many of the included attachments were riddled with misspellings, poor grammar and punctuation, including officially welcoming us to the 3rd annual Health Kwest, when in fact this was the 4th annual Health Kwest.

Silly mistakes, certainly, but it was enough to make me wonder how the next 60 days would go.

Genghis Grill partnered with a company called EMSI to handle weigh-ins at the beginning, middle and end of the contest. We were told that EMSI had branches in all the cities that had contestants. I showed up at my local branch to weigh in at the beginning of the contest, and was informed that the local branch only does drug screening, and that the closest location that could weigh me was in Virginia Beach, over 2 hours away. Evidently I wasn’t the only one with this issue, and we were told that if there was no EMSI location within 60 miles of us, we could just use a local clinic for weigh ins. To my mind, this presents several issues. First, I have never been to a clinic or “Doc in a Box” type facility that doesn’t charge for services. Second, this arrangement vastly increases the ease of which a contestant could alter the results of the weigh in, since it was up to the individual contestants to fax the forms in to Genghis Grill and the EMSI main office. I am lucky enough to work at a job with healthcare facilities right here on the premises, so I didn’t have to pony up a co-pay to be weighed in, but it would have been EXCEEDINGLY easy for me to falsify the forms I faxed to Genghis Grill and EMSI.

Amongst the instructions we received from Jackie, was a note about a welcome package we would be receiving. It noted that due to human error, there may be things missing from our package. Again, a small annoyance, but a sign that things weren’t entirely squared away on the part of Genghis Grill, especially since there was no list of what was to be included. How are we supposed to let them know if something is missing if we don’t know what’s supposed to be in there? I still have no idea if I got what I was supposed to.

One thing that WAS in my package was my Health Kwest card. This is what I was supposed to use every day at Genghis Grill to get my free meal. Imagine my embarrassment when, on my first official trip, my card would not work! Fortunately, the folks at my local restaurant were kind enough to comp my meal and email Genghis Grill corporate on my behalf, so I would get credit for my meal. A bit later that day, I found out that I was not the only one. Evidently Genghis Grill had neglected to actually credit our cards with our free meals. A rather embarrassing issue to have on day one!

As many of you are probably aware, Health Kwest has two basic components. The first is weight loss, with points being given to contestants based on the percentage of their body weight lost. The second half is comprised of a variety of Social Media tasks. We were to complete one task a day, based on a calendar provided to us by Genghis Grill.

Successfully completing the task earned us varying amounts of points. The rules regarding the Social Media tasks given to us were clear. They state, in part “You must complete the task with 100% effort. If you do not complete the task with all requirements, no points will be given.” Seems pretty clear, however Genghis Grill opted not to follow their own rules, on multiple occasions. The most glaring example of this occurred during the first BIG task we had to complete. A task which was the first of three tasks that could potentially earn contestants a “mini-prize” worth approximately $500-$600. The task required us to shoot a video of us doing own own “Genghis Grill Dance, in front of your location. Get your family, friends and staff involved and upload your video to YouTube.” There were a wide variety of really creative videos submitted, many of which clearly showed time and effort had been spent on them, and that included all of the requested elements. Evidently, all of that work was unnecessary, as at least one contestant submitted a 6-second video of them wagging their finger at the camera out in front of their store. This submission, and as far as I can tell, ALL of the submissions received full credit for completing the task.

Genghis Grill went out of their way to come up with very specific tasks for us to complete, and then ignored their own criteria in giving credit for these tasks.

While we are talking about the tasks eligible for “mini-prizes,” most of us found it very disappointing and frustrating that there seemed to be no rhyme or reason when it came to deciding on who actually won them. There was no judging criteria given for deciding the winner of the first task. The second task was also a video, and this time there was an allusion to the number of views being a factor as well as a subjective judging by Genghis Grill. In a clear lack of understanding Social Media, and Facebook in particular, the last task eligible for a “mini-prize” was a Facebook post, and the winner would be decided based on the number of “shares” a post got. On Facebook, you can share your own posts until your heart is content, and each one counts. It would have been possible for someone with enough time to sit there and share their own post over and over again, racking up thousands of shares. This was clearly not well thought out, and should NEVER have been used as the criteria for deciding the winner of anything, much less t task worth hundreds of dollars.

The Social Media tasks we were required to perform were, in fact, the source of many issues, in fact. At the beginning of the contest, we were provided a calendar of tasks to complete, so we could plan ahead, as several of them required quite a bit of work and advanced planning. On more than one occasion, these tasks were arbitrarily changed. One task in particular, another video that required a significant input of time and effort was canceled the day it was due and replaced with a different task, resulting in wasted time and energy on the part of the contestants.

The Social Media tasks we had to complete, involved a lot of posting to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other platforms. Typically these tasks required us to speak highly of Genghis Grill or one of their offerings. We were never asked to include verbiage that clarified we were being compensated for these posts, which is unethical, and in the case of several of these sites (Yelp, in particular), are contrary to the Terms Of Service everyone must agree to in order to create an account.

In addition to these issues with our required Social Media activities, there were several tasks that required contestants to spend money at Genghis Grill, even though ‘No purchase is necessary” to win. In particular, I was, at one time or another required to purchase a glass of wine, a glass of tea, a bottle of Vitamin Water, three “skinny drinks”, and entry fees to a 5k race. I estimate that I spent approximately $100 over the course of the 60-day contest to meet their requirements. This issue was brought up to Genghis Grill who suggested we “stage” these pictures at the restaurants if we didn’t want to spend money on their products. We weren’t informed that this was a possibility until the very last task that required a purchase.

Communications from Jackie and Genghis Grill were, at times, unprofessional, and many times instructions, updates and clarifications were only posted to a Facebook group that had less than half of the participants included in it. So far, these issues have ranged from minor, nit picking by me to moderate annoyances during the contest.

Now it’s time to tackle what, to me, are major, major issues that MUST be addressed by Genghis Grill should they continue to sponsor this event.

First, there were major errors in the reporting of results after both the mid-point weigh in and the final weigh in. Multiple contestants had to request their information be reviewed and adjusted. Edits to the leader board continued for days after the mid-point weigh in, and continued for nearly a WEEK after the final weigh in, even after they had officially announced the winners of the contest. As you can imagine, this certainly raises some doubts about the accuracy of points and weights tabulated for everyone, for the duration of the contest. In fact, Genghis Grill sent an email to all of the contestants announcing the winner and second place prize winner, and then contacted their announced second place winner to tell her she had, in fact, won nothing at all. There was no correction email, and, as far as I know, as of now, there has been no updated announcement regarding who won the 2nd place prize. This is the 4th year Genghis Grill has run this contest. You would certainly think they had long since worked out such major, contest disrupting issues, but evidently not, since the exact same problems were evident after the first and second weigh-ins.

This should be a MAJOR, INEXCUSABLE embarrassment for Genghis Grill and those responsible for running this contest.

Finally, what I find to be the most disturbing, appalling part of this whole affair. The person they announced as the winner of the contest lost over 25% of his body weight (some 76+ pounds) in 60 days. At first blush, this is an astounding accomplishment, until you understand how it was achieved. The winner readily admits to taking stimulants (at one point overdosing), diuretics, intentionally dehydrating and starving himself, discarding much of his Genghis Grill food and taking other extremely risky, unhealthy steps in order to win. Not only that, but he openly admitted to wanting nothing to do with Genghis Grill, and only wanting their prize money. Not exactly someone I would want representing MY company. While the winners actions were certainly risky and unhealthy, the truly appalling part of all of this is, none of it was against the rules. In fact, there Are no rules regarding the weight loss portion of the contest. None. At all. You want to take tons of stimulants? Go ahead! Want liposuction? Want a Lap band? Want to have a leg amputated? Knock yourself out! Want to starve and dehydrate yourself to the point of organ damage or hospitalization? Go to it, as long as those weigh loss numbers look good in the PR and advertising materials after the contest!

The truth of the matter is, Genghis Grill doesn’t give one tiny bit about the people participating in their contest. Over the last 4 years, the winner of the contest has gotten more and more extreme in their methods and weight loss numbers. These concerns have been brought to Genghis Grill every year after the contest is over, yet they completely refuse to take even the most basic steps to address these concerns.

They could do so many simple things, such as cap the percentage of weight lost they will count in the contest. Include other health factors in deciding the winner, such as BMI, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, resting heart rate recovery time or any number of other markers of improved health. Even something as simple as having even the most basic medical supervision during the contest (at the very least, we should have been required to get a physical prior to starting the contest).

They are completely refusing to take the health and well-being of their contestants into account, despite the fact that this contest is billed as a “Health” Kwest.

The last gripe I have with Genghis and their contest, is the fact that now that it’s over, and the PR machine has started cranking up, they are plastering the winner and his results all over the place. They have issued press releases, flooded social media, etc, but not once have they mentioned that the winners results are not typical (and were, in fact negligently dangerous), which is in clear and direct violation of FTC rules on endorsements and testimonials.

Whew! That ended up being a LOT longer than I thought it would be. With all of that being said, I want to be clear that, for the most part, I enjoyed Health Kwest. I have already returned to Genghis Grill to eat since the contest has been over, and in fact brought my local store’s staff and management a big old batch of homemade cookies. My staff and managers were nothing but friendly, supportive and helpful during Health Kwest, and I anticipate continuing to patronize their store.

NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: Pearson asked me to publish this post on his behalf.