Chuck Witt: The dangers of not reading the small print

Published 5:16 pm Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Do you ever read the ‘small print’ that accompanies TV ads?

Of course you don’t. Why? Because the ‘small print’ is either so small that it still wouldn’t be readable if projected on an IMAX screen, or it’s left on for such a short period of time that even a Summa cum Laude graduate from the Evelyn Wood Speedreading academy couldn’t possibly read it, or the color of the writing is so closely matched to the background that it appears like a desert mirage.

There’s a very good reason for these conditions to prevail. The advertiser doesn’t want people to read the small print, because it usually reveals all or most of the caveats or faults of the item being advertised.

This is especially true of all the drug ads that appear on TV these days (although, to be fair, the announcer usually lists the associated ill effects of the medication being advertised). But the ads also usually suggest “see our ad in “such and such” magazine.” Of course if you find that magazine and look for the ad, you are likely to find either two or three full pages devoted to the drug, and a list of adverse reactions twice as long and four times as heinous as the ones listed in the TV ad.

Another ‘small print’ item is those “Buy one and we’ll send a second one absolutely free” infomercials. The ‘small print’ comes in the form of the announcer glibly noting, after “absolutely free, just pay separate shipping and handling.” If one has to pay separate shipping and handling, it’s not free. And for some of these TV products, the shipping and handling costs are two-thirds the cost of the item. There are things that have been advertised for $10 and come with a $6.99 shipping fee.

How many times have attorney ads shown up (the ones offering to defend a person for every known illness or complication thus far discovered, or the ubiquitous traffic accident where the caller is guaranteed to get everything he or she ‘deserves’) with the small print noting that services may be performed by other attorneys? If someone wanted another attorney, why wouldn’t they just go to that person rather than calling a third party who is just going to turn the case over to someone else and rake off a fee for doing nothing?

Oh, and the ‘get all you deserve’ phrase that is touted by nearly every attorney advertising on TV? They all make it sound like something you really deserve, not just something you need or something that’s fair and equitable. By suggesting that you deserve it, you won’t feel so bad when an exorbitant judgment is rendered, all out of proportion to loss. Of course the bigger the judgment, the larger the attorney fee since he or she will probably be getting a percentage.

But back to the small print issue. It’s so maddening to see 12 or 15 lines of print show up on the bottom of the screen only to disappear when you’ve read the first nine words, words which tell you the offer isn’t valid in six states, or not to be taken with water or any other known liquid or offer only good if you can reach your phone or computer before the ad goes off the air.

“Results shown not typical.”

“Amenities vary.”

“Shipping, processing and upgrades extra.”

These are all phrases that show up in numerous TV ads (when one can discern them under the many adverse conditions listed above. The bottom line is that one will never get what is offered at the price shown.

Maybe each viewer should have his or her own small print: “Not interested,” only in big bold letters.