About "the points to be kept in mind regarding the labeling methods and content of fine prints"

While this is not the latest news (it was revealed a few months ago), the Consumer Affairs Agency (CAA) announced its “points to be kept in mind regarding the labeling methods and content of fine print” (hereinafter referred to as “the points of attention”) in June 2018; we would like to tackle this topic this month.

Labeling Claims and Fine Print

What are Fine Prints in this context?
Fine prints (also known as disclaimers) are mentions that appear on labels bearing a claim regarding the content of the product, but this claim has some kind of exception(s).
Good examples of such labeling are mentions attached to someone’s recounting of his/her own experiences; you will often find printed (right next/bellow the original text): ”These are personal impressions or feedbacks. The result differs from person to person.” or something similar.
According to “the points of attention”, labeling claims and fine prints are defined as follows.

[Labeling claims]: Labeling content making claims about the trade terms (ex: product content quality, price, etc) using strong or categorical statements and expressions. It is used by business operators to promote their products or services to general consumers.

[Fine print]: A labeling mention stating items or conditions that will normally not be expected by consumers when reading a labeling claim on a package, despite such items/conditions being important factors to be considered when making a buying decision regarding a product or service.

How to label fine prints

“The points of attention”summarizes  the labeling points to consider for each different media and their specificities: not only advertisements printed on paper but also video ads and web advertising (PC, Smartphones, etc.).
Regarding labeling made on containers and packaging, for the sake of this entry we will assume that it is equivalent to the”paper advertisement”part, while we will feature below the points to be noted that are common to all media.

(1) Font size for fine prints

The font size of fine prints is considered to be one of the major reasons as of why those prints are not recognized by general consumers.

When business operators use fine prints,  the font size of the labeling should be adequately big enough to allow the general consumers to read those mentions in situations such as: 

  • - holding the product into their hands
  • - or when looking at the labeling from far away such as advertising posters in train station.

Besides, the characteristics of the medium used to label should also be considered.

(2) Balance of font sizes between labeling claims and fine prints

Since fine prints and labeling claims are “a paired relationship”, it is necessary to consider the balance of their font sizes so that they can both be properly recognized. If the font size fine prints is remarkably smaller than the one of labeling claims, generally the consumers attention will be drawn  by the labeling claims (and their strong impact), while not noticing the fine prints.

(3) Printing location of fine prints

Since it is required to label fine prints so as general consumers can recognize that they are mentions strongly linked to labeling claims, the location of fine prints is a very important element to allow their recognition as such.

(4) Distinction between fine prints and the labeling background

In case it is difficult to distinguish between the colors of fine prints and their background, for instance when the colors of a fine print are not contrasting with the background (ex: when fine prints are stated in white and the background is bright light blue, orange or yellow), there is a risk that general consumers will not notice them.

About the content of fine prints

Furthermore, in regards to the content of fine prints that might create issues, the four types listed below were announced.

(1) Fine prints – "Exception" type

As for fine prints mentioning any sort of “exception” in regards to claims made on the product/service content or trade terms, in case general consumers cannot understand the contents of these fine prints, they will very likely get the wrong idea that they can use the product or service without exceptions.

(2) Fine prints – Separate conditions

For instance, when there is a claim about a discount period or price, but different conditions are to be applicable for the discount and are written as fine prints leading to general consumers possibly being unable to understand the content, consumers will possibly (and wrongly) think they can use the product or service with the discount period or price without any separate condition.

(3) Fine prints: Extra charge

In case when the price is highlighted as “all-inclusive” or in any other way it might seem that there is no extra charge, but the statements of an extra charge are written as fine prints, general consumers might be confused about the content, and they will possibly (and wrongly) think there is no extra charges besides the original price.

(4) Fine prints: Test condition

When using certain labeling with statements regarding effects or performance (note: it must be kept it in mind that “the effects or performance written on the labeling” here refers to the effects or performance which general consumers recognize from the labeling as a whole including sentences, pictures, values from test results, conceptual diagrams, experiences of a consumer, etc. on them), it needs to properly correspond to content proven objectively by tests or research.

Now regarding an example that immediately comes to mind: “These are personal impressions or feedbacks. The result differs from person to person.”, in order to not mislead general consumers by stories of personal experiences, it is necessary to use stories which properly correspond to the effects or performance of products or services. Therefore, it is established that – in regards to the research performed by the business operator on the effects and performance of a product:
(i) the number of subjects and their attributes,

(ii) the percentage of people among them who got the effects or performance as described in the stories and,
(iii) the percentage of people who did not get the effects or performance as described in the stories

should be clearly stated.

Future schedule

According to the announcement from CAA, their policy will now impose strict control on "fine prints". The 4 methods and 4 types of labeling listed above can be applied to any kind of labeling regardless of the medium. Therefore, we recommend that not only people involved in packaging design but also those engaged in tasks to check that the labeling of enclosed leaflets, brochures or websites is appropriate, to read through it at least once.

Act against Unjustifiable Premiums and Misleading Representations (CAA)

The points to be kept in mind regarding the labeling methods and content of fine prints (summary of factual investigation reports)

December 2018