Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Nearly illegible fine print ... in the next day's newspaper

In yesterday's Consumer Watch column about the fine print in auto ads, I responded to a complaint about an ad in last Monday's Philadelphia Inquirer.

I wrote that "mouse type" in print ads and the broadcast equivalent, fast-talking disclaimers before or after a radio or TV commercial, were longstanding problems in the marketing of autos (as well as other products), and had prompted numerous actions over the years by the Pennsylvania attorney general and others who monitor the marketplace. I concluded, though, that I'd seen far worse examples than what Dale Shaw complained about: the small-type phrase "with $2,000 cash or trade-in" alongside a $17,990 price for a used 2006 Volkswagen Passat.

Leave it to an eagle-eyed reader to point out one of those worse examples - in at least some editions of today's Philadelphia Inquirer. (In my paper, it ran on a page marked "PA F1.")

The Hopkins Ford ad lists a number of cars, and in big type touts an offer of zero-percent financing "plus $1,000 drive on us bonus cash or we'll pay for your gas up to 2007.*"

And what does that "*" refer to? Donald Bandera of South Philadelphia called to complain that he had no idea, because the footnote appears not only in tiny type - much smaller than the Passat ad's 8- or 9-point small print - but also in white print on a blue background.

I could barely make it out myself, with eyes that are 20-odd years younger than Bandera's, but finally found good enough light to focus: It's a disclaimer that says the no-interest financing is "in lieu of rebate" but compatible with the "drive on us" offer, and that explains how the gas offer works.

Printing in color isn't the easiest thing on newspaper presses. Perhaps this ad wasn't meant to be nearly illegible. If I get a response from Hopkins or our ad department, I'll post it here.

For now, it's worth noting that Bandera assumes otherwise, and it's hard to argue with his determination to exercise a healthy skepticism in a competitive market.

"I’m looking around for a car, but I’d never buy one with an ad like that," he told me. "As soon as I see that, that’s like a flag. "I don’t know what they’re trying to hide."

Maybe nothing, or at least nothing surprising. But if Bandera can't read it, even after trying a magnifying glass, how would he ever know?


Post a Comment

<< Home