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Have you read the fine print?

Last week this lady posted about her experience with OCBC about a birthday cake. The quick background is that OCBC is running a campaign that shows a customer getting a cake on her birthday because she happens to be in the bank on that day. The blogger then tested this claim by going to the bank on her birthday and asking, no demanding, a cake. Her experience is on the post.

It opened a debate in sedate Singapore whether readers should believe what they see in advertising and if so how much.

As shoppers we are all aware of store posters that say ‘upto 75% off’. As long as there is one item in the store, that no one usually wants, and is 75% off  the sign is valid and true. Once you get in to the store of course you find that less than 10% of the stock is on sale. And that too is probably 10-20% off. If you are not careful you may end up buying and paying full price for merchandise. I know it has happened to me on many a occassion.

But as this kind of misinformation moves to main stream media the question has to be asked what is the line that advertisers should not cross before it becomes a lie?

Two examples here.

The first is an ad for Dettol.

The headline claims that good hygiene practices can reduce illness by 75%. Actually it saves ‘upto‘ 75%. Upto..remember the store sale poster? It could be just 5% illness reduction and the ad would still be legally valid. The interesting point about this ad is in the fine print. The data is based on a survey done among 5 year olds in Africa in 2007. So facts found in a small group, in a country far away from Singapore, 2 years ago have been jazzed up to make for an impressive headline. Dettol ad in Singapore

The second example is this HSBC ad in yesterday’s local papers.

HSBC Premier ad in SingaporeSeems simple enough. Open a Premier account and get a 37″ colour TV.

But the * and + signs compel you to read the fine print. Firstly it qualifies Premier as saying people who have a minimum relationship value of SGD 200K. That is fine, as you need to explain what you mean by Premier. But then it goes on to say that you only get the 37″ TV if you also take a home loan at the same time. Else all you get is a 32″ TV. So essentially the ad is saying ‘Open a Premier account and get a 32″ TV”. Not a bad offer. But someone decided to up the attractiveness index by making it a 37″ TV with additional fine print.

We see more and more ads with * against an offer or a promotion which is qualified at the bottom with ‘terms and conditions apply’.

And the more advertisers do this the less credibility their communication has as customers are now reading the fine print more carefully. The other day a widely respected colleague of mine  was saying that a survey done in 2009 among some consumer segments suggested that their trust in big brands had declined significantly over the last two years.

I wonder if some of the tactics as above are leaving brands in the moral grey area. The truth in advertising seems now is in the fine print.

Will short sighted revenue generating tactics affect brand strength over the long term? Will it be too late?

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  1. January 2, 2011 at 12:29 pm

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