Devils in fine print
When advertisers don't respond to your queries on it, advertising professionals avoid discussing it and consumers mostly express complete surprise about it, you know you are on to something. Anita Sharan writes. Mind that small print! There’s a regulatory crackdown | Playing with smartphonesbusiness Updated: Mar 12, 2012 01:57 IST
When advertisers don't respond to your queries on it, advertising professionals avoid discussing it and consumers mostly express complete surprise about it, you know you are on to something.
"What fine print?" ask a number of consumers when you ask if they have read any of the fine print that appears below television advertisements.
"I did not even notice they were there and I watch enough news and entertainment programmes daily," said Mumbai businessman Durga Agarwal.
But for a very few ads in which the fine print is large enough, much of the fine print is impossible to read from where you would normally sit and watch TV. It also flashes by quickly - you are lucky if you can read the first three words.
Sharda Agarwal, director, MarketGate Consulting, said the questionable trick of the advertising world had gone beyond financial services and cars. "Today, you see it in every category, even for Rs 5 products," she said.
Alan Collaco, secretary-general of the industry's self-regulatory body, the Advertising Standards Council of India, said there are some rules that fine prints must follow. "According to the ASCI code, certain clauses or explanations have to be given in fine print with the advertising, with the text in 11 pixels (point size) and appearing on-screen for at least four seconds." He admits there are ads that don't stick to the norms.
There's a Rin ad that has a three-deck copy in very small print and cannot be read in totality in the time it stays on screen. Dove Intense Repair, Pantene, Clear - all shampoo brands - and Surf Excel are examples that say their testing has been under laboratory conditions in their fine print. Whisper Choice's fine print says "Simulated lab test using 1 ml liquid." Parachute Advansed's small print says, "Based on a consumer study." Pepsodent's small print says "Based on in-vivo study." What's that?
A TV ad for Eno has small print that starts with "Does not contain fruit…" and the line disappears too quickly to read the rest. That's Eno "fruit salt," right?
Shalina Mudanna, wife of a senior corporate executive in Mumbai, an avid TV viewer, commented after being made aware of the fine print: "You cannot read more than three-four words before they disappear. Are they meant for consumers?"
Collaco defended: "If consumers are interested in the product, they will definitely read the small print. For example, Kellogg's Special K explains the conditions under which it works for weight loss in its fine print."
But, as Mudanna said: "You don't really read the fine print because your attention is on the ad."
Even if ASCI is right, explain this: the ad for Tide Naturals talks of lemon and sandalwood fragrance and adds that it does not contain either - in fine print!
The new ad for Head & Shoulders Lime Fresh promises 100% dandruff freedom, while the small print states, "visible flakes only".
Bournvita's ad with a child practicing a gym flip has useful fine print warning that such stunts require "expert guidance" - but the print is too small and fuzzy to read.
Anita Desai, a homemaker, said she would be careful with fine print ads. "Such clarifications would definitely lead me to reconsider the brands I buy," she said.
At the root of it all, as MarketGate's Agarwal puts it, is cut-throat competition. "Add the Right to Information Act that empowers consumers more, and manufacturers have to be extra cautious" she said. But she added that what is right legally "may not necessarily be right."
Sunil Alagh, founder, SKA Advisors, said it was important that consumers should be informed both in spirit and letter. "The devil is always in the fine print," he said. "I think we need strong legislation to protect the consumer from such partially factual claims."