Wednesday, August 4, 2010

it's all in the fine print

I confess....I'd blame the lawyer-side for my interest in small print, but I'm pretty sure it was there before. In college, I took a class called Narratives of Adolescence and my final paper explored two contrasting young men I knew. The paper was fine, but it was the totally tongue-in-cheek, utterly hilarious (I know, too modest) footnotes that made the paper. I got a 4.0...and a recommendation that I explore my unexpressed anger issues with someone (ummm...I'm totally in touch with my anger, thank you).

Anyway, I like to read footnotes (when they aren't just citations) and I also like to read disclaimers. Which is really what I'm thinking about. Let's look at some of my favorites:
  • FREE (well, not so much)! -- The obvious example is which explains in the fine print that getting said free report requires joining a subscription service...which they'll kindly bill you for directly on your credit card. I'm more amused though by the education ads that tout a "free viewbook"...okay, so you'll send me an advertisement at no cost? Yeah, what a deal.
  • 4 IN 5 (not counting the other 90)! -- It seems like everyone has a study touting how some form of expert prefers their product. The fine print offers a bit more explanation that the numbers only include those who expressed a preference. Which means, the 95 polled who weren't in the pockets of the company probably said "I don't care which sugarless gum you chew."
  • DON'T KILL YOUR BABY (let a stranger do it) -- Okay, this is really the one that made me want to write. There is an ad (either a PSA or for a vaccine company) urging parents to get vaccinated against whooping cough with the cataclysmic warning that most infants catch the disease from their parents. The fine print on this one clarifies that it only applies "when a source is identified." Okay, it seems to me that makes sense...if the parent has it, the source is easy to identify...if not, it seems likely to be much harder (maybe day care, but they seem focused on new babies when a good deal are still in parental hands). Mom is easier to identify than "the guy who used the grocery cart before I stuck the car seat in the top."
  • BE LIKE ME (no promises) -- This one runs the gamut. Ads tout a weight loss success, the amazing healing powers of a medicine, or the skills of an attorney. The fine print then tells you that "prior results do not guarantee future performance" or "your results may vary." Okay, so the ad is essentially for a lottery ticket...maybe you'll win, maybe not. Yes, I know this is a legal issue in many cases. I did stay awake in most of law school professional responsibility and there are LOTS of rules on lawyer ads, as is also the case for meds. I'm still amused.

Stay tuned for the next blog update. That will come whenever I feel like it. And may amuse you. Or may make you think. Or may make you say "I'll never get those five minutes of my life back!" or "couldn't she proofread this before posting" (I ran spellcheck, isn't that enough??).

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