by Chris Dolley
Earlier this week we took Shelagh’s mother back home to England. Of the seven week’s worth of mail waiting for her, a third was of the ‘You’ve won £10,000’ variety. You know the ones – sometimes it’s a huge cash amount, sometimes it’s a flashy TV or a holiday. And you’ve definitely won, because it says so, in paragraph after paragraph of unequivocal announcements. An independent adjudicator has even seen the cheque with your name on it. Look, as proof he’s signed his name below! And so has our financial director. There’s no doubt about it. You’ve won!
Somewhere, hidden away – written in very small writing using a special ink extracted from the juice of untrustworthy lemons – is the disclaimer. Well, when we said ‘win’ we’re using it in the ‘marketing’ sense – as in ‘you haven’t exactly won, but you might. If you buy some tat from our catalogue and allow your name to be entered into our draw.’
How companies have been allowed to get away with this for so long is a complete mystery to me. The intent is clearly to confuse the reader. In an age where cigarette packets have to carry health warnings, and packaged food has to contain long lists of their contents, calorific value, fat content, country of origin etc, how come advertisements designed to con people are exempt?
Wouldn’t it be a simple piece of legislation to say that any advert for a lottery/draw should, by law, have the words ‘THIS IS A LOTTERY’ covering say 20% of the announcement? If an advert fails to do this then the lottery is illegal, and fines (and optional birching of the organisers) will swiftly follow.
What disgusts me most is the latest incarnation of this con – the ones that target the elderly. Two of the letters waiting for my mother-in-law didn’t talk about the amazing prize that she’d definitely won, they talked about the ‘additional pension allowance’ that she’d been awarded. Note the difference – awarded, not won. And the letter was designed to look official. It wasn’t a picture of a cheque, or a plasma TV. It was an official looking letter from the Treasurer’s department.
Not only did this fool my mother-in-law, it also fooled everyone else she showed the letter to when she first received it in June. Everyone agreed. The letter had to be genuine. The situation was made worse by the fact that she was waiting for a letter from the pensions authority concerning a claim for an additional pension allowance. This had to be that letter.
It took me ten minutes to find the small print – or ‘terms and conditions’ as it was labelled. It was hidden away on an accompanying piece of paper, making it very easy to overlook, lose or throw out. The only thing that signalled the letter was a scam was the fact that to find out how much your monthly allowance was, you had to scratch away at a silvered box.
Now if News International is looking for a good campaign to take everyone’s minds off their current plight, why not start here? We’ve had Sarah’s Law and Megan’s Law, why not Grandma’s Law?
(and Fox/Sky News could televise the public birching:)
Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. More information about his other work can be found on his BVC bookshelf .