THE TRICKY BOTTOM LINE

I once brought my eyeglasses prescription to a “Vision Center” after reading their ad about a $99.00 sale. “That sale price applies to a very limited selection of frames and doesn’t include bifocals or scratch-resistant coating . Didn’t you read the fine print?” the clerk asked.

If I could have read the fine print I wouldn’t need new glasses,” I said. “I thought those tiny black marks at the bottom were some sort of decoration.”

Fine print is a widely used deceptive merchandising tool that counts on the consumer’s reluctance to squint through paragraphs of tiny lettering to discover disclaimers, provisos and warnings. I heard the Supreme Court has ruled that it’s legal under the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. Or is that freewheeling speech?

One of the worst examples is the television ad for new cars which includes a dozen lines of fine print flashing on the screen for five seconds following the loud and large printed promises of the sale. Does the Supreme Court expect us to record that ad, freeze frame it and, using a magnifying glass, find out the numerous exceptions to the offer? This must be “do-it-yourself full disclosure.”

There is the story of the movie theater ad, probably apocryphal, that announced senior citizens, 65 years and older, would be admitted free to all matinees. The fine print qualification added, however, “When accompanied by their parents.” If their parents were available and still ambulatory, they would have had to pay full price. A neat ploy.

I recently had a tree company repair storm damage in my backyard. The crew did a great job at a reasonable price, but one line in their contract was a little strange and might have eluded speed readers. “We reserve the right to dishonor any contract at any time.” This was not in fine print and I noticed it immediately. Beneath that line I wrote in tiny letters, “Me too” and signed it.


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