Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A couple of years ago, my 10 year old car started to give me trouble and I would bear the brunt of my kids' jokes over the various options that car could be utilised for. So when finally, my son gave me the sage advice of handing over the vehicle to the crew of Fast & Furious for a crash scene in their 8th sequel, I took the leap and headed out in search of a new car.

My perusal of automobile advertisements led me to a very enticing one in the newspaper whereby the manufacturer was offering a new sedan car for $189/month. Obviously excited by this amazing offer, I went to the showroom and met the sales consultant to discuss the deal. He happily assisted me with all the details which made me all the more unprepared for the moment of truth. He dropped the bombshell of the hidden costs, as he narrated all the terms and conditions attached to the offer. Clearly agitated I protested that those details had not been mentioned in the ad. The salesman cleverly replied, "Sir, that ad was from our marketing department. But we always mention that T&C apply and then there is the 'fine print' at the bottom." I came back feeling deflated and empty-handed.

The experience made me research a bit more on fine print and why even large corporations resort to hiding tactics when it comes to revealing the technicalities of an offer or a deal to their customers. Is it because what they claim in their marketing campaigns is not entirely true? Or is this done in order to catch their customers' attention hence making the ad copy overly spiced.

In Wikipedia, fine print is defined as:

"Fine print, small print , or "mouseprint" is less noticeable print smaller than the more obvious larger print it accompanies that advertises or otherwise describes or partially describes a commercial product or service.The larger print that is used in conjunction with fine print by the merchant often has the effect of deceiving the consumer into believing the offer is more advantageous than it really is, via a legal technicality which requires full disclosure of all (even unfavorable) terms or conditions, but does not specify the manner (size, typeface, coloring, etc.) of disclosure. There is also strong evidence to suggest that the fine print is not read by the majority of consumers."

So fine print does provide a legal cover to companies for trying to pull the wool over their customers' eyes. This way of advertising opens a whole new debate on exercising Ethical marketing. I will leave that discussion for some other day. However, fine print is used extensively in all consumer related business activities. Be it a credit card application, signing a new online app (how many times have you read their 100 pages terms and conditions agreement), buying a new insurance policy or even indulging in a Buy 2 Get 2 Free offer, fine print is everywhere. By being wary or paying a bit of attention to these mouseprints you can decipher the actual offer on hand compared to the one claimed by the advertiser. Many of us rarely make the effort to read or investigate the offer and never complain to the company for making such false claims.

Mouse print.org, an online company in USA has made it their mission to expose the strings and catches in the use of fine print. They scrutinize BIG words campaigns of major companies and then expose the real facts on their website. It is quite shocking to discover how even well established brands are also caught into such controversies.

I believe it is because of such practices from large corporations that has compelled governments to introduce Consumer Protection acts. The one in the UAE introduced by the Dubai Economic Department is called "Consumer Rights". In one of their polls, the question asked was, "Do you know how to lodge a complaint?" A staggering 84% of the respondents said, "No."

So, the next time you come across such fine print, do make an effort and lodge your complaint with the company if you believe more transparency is required. It will help everyone.

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