If you’re anything like me, you chuckle at the part in the prescription drug ads where someone quickly runs down the caveats: “If you are a crack cocaine addict or habitual masturbator, be sure to tell your doctor before taking Suspiria. People who are taking prepropadeutic drugs, have ever committed suicide, are allergic to ectoplasm, or experience bleeding during menstrual periods should not take Suspiria.”
Silly as these sound, sometimes I wish other commercials were required to do something similar. Instead, they confine those little caveatish details to the fine print at the bottom of the screen where they’re hard to read, esp given the short time they appear.
Watch almost any car ad where the vehicle rounds a treacherous corner at high speed wonderfully hugging the pavement. Inevitably, below it the fine print will read: “Closed course. Professional driver. Do not attempt.” Well, geez, fellas, if I’m not supposed to take advantage of the very features that make the car so seductively attractive, why should I buy it?! The last screen of the ad shows a spiffy car and the legend: "Starts at $12.500." The fine print at the bottom reads: "$15,950 with optional items as shown."
And then there’s all those ads for diet supplements. Every single picture of a fatty who lost 37 pounds and 4 inches off the waist in three weeks is accompanied in the bottom right hand corner by a reduced-size “Results not typical.” At the bottom of the final page where you are offered two – yes, two bottles! – of the supplement for the price of one, you will find a disclaimer that the product has never been evaluated by the FDA and the vendor makes no claims about its efficacy!
Among all the shills for near-magical kitchen products, late-nite TV watchers encounter an ad by a Roni Deutsch professing to be a lawyer who can solve all your problems with the IRS for “pennies on the dollar.” Accompanying her claim are testimonials from satisfied clients who affirm that their lives escaped ruin by the IRS due to Roni’s efforts. Featured in large numbers are the amounts the IRS wanted to wring from the poor taxpayer and how little he/she paid due to Ms Deutsch's intervention. Running along the bottom of the last few screens are statements that you may never see Ms Deutsch but another lawyer instead, that she is not certified as a tax law specialist in any state, and that you should choose a lawyer based on credentials and experience, not on claims made and client testimonials. Shades of Ms Cleo of Psychic Hotline fame! In all fairness, Ms Deutsch does not wear a turban to help her look authentic.
Yesterday I encountered the sneakiest and most dastardly TV ad fine print yet. A commercial promises that you too can own a fancy computer – along with a free printer, camera, and year’s worth of high speed internet access – for small monthly payments. Shown is a young woman using the computer and expressing her gratitude that the advertiser made it possible for her to afford it. Unfortunately, neither the total price, the size of the payments, not the payment amounts are mentioned, but you are assured you can even skip a payment without any penalty! Where do I get mine? Whoops, I just noticed four or five lines of fine print on the last page that disappeared so fast I couldn’t manage to read anything but the first few words: “This is a layaway plan.”