May 25, 2015 6:57 pm
Updated: May 25, 2015 8:07 pm

Companies use transit ads to offer big discounts, but details are in the fine print

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WATCH ABOVE: Companies offering sweetheart promotional deals favour big headlines and use fine print to indicate the offers are for a short time only. Sean O’Shea reports.

TORONTO–If you’re trying to find a deal on television services, it’s a low-cost introductory offer.

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“It’s a pretty good deal,” said Mika Kotani, standing on the Lawrence station subway platform. “Better TV — better price,” she added, reading from the large billboard advertisement featuring an attractive, smiling woman sitting on a sofa with a clicker in hand.

But many consumers may not know that the $19.95 deal advertised by Zazeen TV is only good for one month.

“I’d be mad if I didn’t see the fine print,” said her friend Marlee Nisenboim. Both women said they hadn’t seen the small disclaimer at the bottom of the billboard until a reporter pointed it out.

Zazeen embarked on an aggressive subway and bus billboard campaign to increase market share. The ads promise “Over 100 HD channels and live sports” for $19.95 a month. But in small type at the bottom of the ads there is a caveat: “First month only. TV service $49.95 after promo.”

The company told Global News it has not received any complaints about the ads, even though they may contravene the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards. Section One of the code reads: “Disclaimers and asterisked or footnoted information must not contradict more prominent aspects of the message and should be located and presented in such a manner as to be clearly legible and or audible.”

Zazeen declined a request for an on-camera interview to discuss its advertising program.

In a written statement, the company said, in part: “Zazeen TV is a new service offering in Ontario and we pride ourselves on putting the companies best foot forward all the time. At no point have we hidden any information at all. Zazeen has put extremely large asterisks beside the price of the advertisements, as well we believe the small print is very large in comparison to most other companies advertisements. We, at no point, hide the fact that this is a promotion and it’s for one month.”

“Life is about expectation management,” said Alan Middleton, a professor of marketing with the Schulich School of Business at York University.

He says advertisers are risking their reputations more than ever in a social media age because consumers aren’t afraid to complain about offers they consider misleading. Middleton says if consumers pursue their legal rights through complaints to regulators and through the courts marketers might be more likely to be more cautious in their claims.

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