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Print so small it’s not so smart

[16 Dec 2013] SmartWater Technology, a British company that sells crime-deterrent marking technology, is trying to raise its own capital by advertising investment bonds that promise a return of 7.5% a year. But the small print ‘important information’ section in its Sunday Times advert (24 November) is so tiny as to be virtually illegible. This is a bit ironic as SmartWater technology is all about making things clear by helping identify criminals. The products leave a trace on skin and clothing that’s unique to the place they’ve invaded – it’s like postcoding in a bottle. The trace emits a ghostly green glow under ultraviolet light.

Aided by a magnifier, readers can make out that the advert’s ‘important information’ is all about making sure they understand the risks of investing in an unsecured bond whose value they could lose if the company goes bust. The roughly 5-point type in the advert (shown on the next page, size reduced) is reversed out of dark blue and typeset over a six-inch line length, meaning there are some 150 characters and spaces to the line. Most experts recommend about 50-80 characters and spaces for good legibility. The headline offering a 7.5% return is in huge lettering.

The advert for the bond also includes a logo saying ‘Grade A External. 5 year durability. BSI PAS 820:2012.’ The logo looks like an endorsement for the bond but actually it refers to the SmartWater technology, even though it is not cross-referenced as such.

SmartWater’s company solicitor Florian Mattinson told us the advert was 100% legal: ‘All our adverts are approved by our lawyers and accountants. They know about the law. No subscriber or potential subscriber could invest in our offering without proceeding through the disclaimer and the terms and conditions on the website.’

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