A number of state and federal laws regulate the use of asterisks and fine print footnotes, including:
1. BBB Code of Advertising
An asterisk may be used to impart additional information about a word or term which is not in itself inherently deceptive. The asterisk or other reference symbol should not be used as a means of contradicting or substantially changing the meaning of any advertising statement. Information referenced by asterisks should be clearly and prominently disclosed.
FTC guide for business advertising, includes this advice:
Don’t Bury the Details
Your ads should clearly and conspicuously disclose all the information about an offer that is likely to affect a consumer’s purchasing decision. Disclose the most important information – like the terms affecting the basic cost of the offer – near the advertised price.
Print advertisers should not attempt to hide the real cost or the critical terms or conditions by:
- Putting them in obscure locations, such as the border area on a print ad;
- Burying them in numerous, densely packed lines of fine print; or
- Including them in small-type footnotes.
Television advertisers should not hide key information in:
- A fast moving “crawl”;
- Superscripts or subscripts using small print sizes or a color that fades into the background;
- Type that disappears from the screen too fast for consumers to read and comprehend; or
“… all of the terms, conditions and obligations should appear in close conjunction with the offer of “Free” merchandise or service. For example, disclosure of the terms of the offer set forth in a footnote of an advertisement to which reference is made by an asterisk or other symbol placed next to the offer, is not regarded as making disclosure at the outset.” See full guide.
Disclosure of Material Facts. Disclosures of material facts that are contained in advertisements and that involve types of vehicles and transactions shall be made in a clear and conspicuous manner.
- Factors to be taken into consideration include advertisement layout, headlines, illustrations, type size, contrast, crawl speed and editing.
- Fine print, and mouse print are not acceptable methods of disclosing material facts.
- The disclosure must be made in a typeface and point size comparable to the typeface and point size of the text used throughout the body of the advertisement.
- An asterisk may be used to give additional information about a word or term, however, asterisks or other reference symbols may not be used as a means of contradicting or substantially changing the meaning of any advertising statements.
“It shall be an unfair or deceptive act or practice for a seller to use a disclosure set apart from the primary claim to which it refers, such as by use of an asterisked footnote, if such disclosure imparts a meaning that contradicts or materially alters the meaning of the term, statement or claim to which it refers.” 940 CMR 6.01 effective January 4, 2010.