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"To stop those monsters, one-two-three,

Here's a fresh new way that's trouble-free.

It's got Paul Anka's guarantee...

Guarantee void in Tennessee."
Lisa Simpson, The Simpsons, "Treehouse of Horror VI"
"English only. Not available in Quebec"
—Canadian Sears catalogs

Hey! We've got a marvelous, fantastic deal for you, one that will make your wallet heavier, your life better, your teeth whiter and your significant other want to have sex with you every night. And the price is so damn low, we're CRAZY!

Except for you doofs in Nebraska. You're stuck out, and we're certainly not going to tell you why. Na na na-na na!

Why did Nebraska end up with the short end of the stick for so long? The answer lies deep in some silly rules imposed by the Bell System, combined with an odd bit of Cold War surplus.

Before deregulation of telephone services and the later cellphone revolution, the phone company (and we mean the phone company--in most places in the US, telephone service was a Bell monopoly) had no incentive to expand the infrastructure of any state more than what was necessary for its residents. The sole exception was Nebraska, because the Strategic Air Command or SAC (the Air Force command tasked with managing the Air Force's nuclear weapons) was based in Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha and needed insane amounts of incoming phone lines as insurance in the case of an attack. Needless to say, most of those lines went unused 365 days a year.

Mail-order companies, and especially those taking advantage of the new 800 service, saw potential in the infrastructure and petitioned Northwestern Bell and the government to let them make use of it. They agreed with the proviso that the businesses would be cut off if the Soviets attacked (well duh). There was a bigger problem, though: At the time, using the same 800 number both for calls within a specific state and calls from one state to another was against telephone company rules, one of many self-serving, seemingly random provisos people had to live with back in the Bell days. Sellers therefore had the choice of confusing their customers with two 800 numbers, one for callers within Nebraska and one for callers living in the rest of the country, or just having the one 800 number and barring Nebraska residents from calling (and possibly advertising a local number on local Omaha TV stations?). Most chose the latter.

As more call centers set up shop in Omaha, Northwestern Bell built more and more infrastructure to the point that the number of lines going into call centers dwarfed those originally used by the SAC. The rules about 800 numbers didn't change until the mid 1990s, when the SAC disbanded into the current STRATCOM. And Now You Know.

Often summed up quite simply with "Void where prohibited," a magical phrase which shifts the onus of learning about obscure laws away from the seller and onto the consumer.

The actual most likely U.S. state to be excluded from an offer broadcast on TV these days is Tennessee, with its strict advertising regulations (the absence of state income/interest taxes means shopping local is crucial). In Canada, Eh?, it's Quebec -- due to both gambling laws and French language requirements. In the UK, Northern Ireland misses out on a lot, but islands off the British Mainland may also find themselves exempt.

Compare to No Export for You.

Examples of Offer Void in Nebraska include:


Advertising

  • An example of this played for comedy is in this Microsoft video made as a joke advertisement for Windows 1.0. Apparently this "advanced operating environment" was available everywhere, "except in Nebraska!" for some indiscernible reason.
  • Back in the 1980's, Augsburger Beer used to have their Brewmeister, Hans Kessler, do their radio commercials (he always pointed out that, in spite of its German-sounding name and German-accented Brewmeister, Augsburger was brewed "right hier in ze goot old U. S. ov A."). At one point, when they were holding a contest, he gave a brief summary of the rules, then added, "Just remember to drink Augsburger Beer, and void where prohibited." (beat) "Did I say zat right?"
  • The infamous Westwood College "Tighten up the graphics" commercial was not intended for residents of Texas or Massachusetts.
  • Nearly all Car insurance and similar things from the UK are not applicable in Northern Ireland despite being part of the United Kingdom.
  • A jarring example for discounts and other goodies for Lasyk Eye Surgery was played in California. Except towards the very end of the ad, it says "Offer void in California".

Live Action TV

  • Deal or No Deal's play-at-home Lucky Case Game cannot be played by residents of North Dakota, Tennessee, South Carolina, Nebraska, and Minnesota.
  • When John Henson was host of Talk Soup on E!, he used to run fake offers with a long rolling list of disclaimers that always ended with "Valid in 49 states -- sorry Tennessee!"
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 has made jokes about this.
  • The Tush program on WTBS in the late 70's - early 80's would often have disclaimers on their fake ads stating 'Void where prohibited and, of course, in Wisconsin.'
  • Parodied in The Daily Show skit "Freedom Packages," an imitation infomercial offering "packages" of US intervention. In the end, after a long list of possible "side effects," it says "Package not valid in West Bank and Gaza."
  • Most Disney Channel contests have "Void were prohibited in Maine".
  • Charter Communications has "Open to legal US residents of the 48 states (including DC) except New York and Florida.


Magazines

  • Mad Magazine once spoofed this trope with a coupon that was "Void where prohibited. Prohibited where void. Void and prohibited where not allowed."
  • If a British comic, such as The Beano or The Dandy, has a cover mounted free gift, it would often be absent when sold in the Republic of Ireland. Probably also applies to Canada and New Zealand.

Video Games

  • Parodied in World of Warcraft: One of the demons a warlock can summon, the voidwalker, a kind of shadow/nothingness elemental, sometimes says "I...am...void...where...prohibited." when summoned.
    • See also the many real-world competitions on the World of Warcraft website, as well as the recently launched Arena Tournaments. In Europe, many countries within the EU are prohibited from entering any such competition due to national laws that are beyond Blizzard's control. Regardless, guess who gets the blame for this...
      • People in Quebec also cannot enter the tournaments; see Canada below.
  • Happens frequently with contests in City of Heroes that have real-world prizes. Since European players were so often excluded there were eventually Europe-only contests held for those players that the Americans cannot enter.
    • One of the major locations in the gameworld is Paragon City, Rhode Island. Guess which US state is excluded from participating in real-world contests?
  • Spore recently had an expansion pack which was announced available to all players in the US, except residents of Maine.

Web Animation

  • Parodied on Homestar Runner in a commercial for the "Strong Bad Sings!" music collection: "Refunds not available in Maine or Arkansas."

Western Animation

  • It's got Paul Anka's Guarantee.
    • Guarantee void in Tennessee.
    • Lampshaded in the episode "Fear of Flying" where an official at Krazy Klown Airlines offers Homer and his family free tickets to anywhere in the U.S., "excluding Alaska and Hawaii, the freak states.".
  • Sheep in The Big City exaggerated this to absurd lengths in a cutaway gag, with a list of terms and conditions that ran for at least a minute. And the prize was a single can of Shrimp Cola.

Other

  • Played humorously by OK Go during their OK Go Dances With You YouTube commercial, where people living in Antarctica were excluded from the contest, because they were too far away (sucks to be you)
  • Parodied in the Capitol Steps's fake commercial to treat "Electile Dysfunction." Offer not good in Florida.
  • Inverted in hayleyghoover's Annoyances 11-15: the pilgrim figurines are available for 60 easy payments of 29.99, but only in Oregon (and you get a free spatula!)

Variations

Australia

  • Competitions run by companies based in Australia which also market their product in New Zealand may only be open to residents of Australia.
  • In Australia, it's South Australia and the Northern Territory, because only the east coast matters after all...
    • SA has a very strict Trade Practices Act; NT may have inherited some of them, since it used to be ruled from SA.
  • Similarly there's the rural (or "regional") areas: Any time any novel development occurs in Australia, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth will always get it first, and everywhere else will get it never. When Channel Ten launched ONE HD, it apparently neglected to mention that only the capital cities would get it, much to the chagrin of rural viewers.

Canada

  • The Canadian version is, "Offer not valid in Quebec." Quebec has its own gambling laws regarding sweepstakes, which differ widely from the rest of Canada, particularly the requirement that anything in English must also be present and accepted in French. There are also separate laws that make certain contests found in advertisements void; in particular it is illegal to advertise to children in Quebec. Since some of those publicity campaigns for contests run throughout Canada, the contest they advertise is made unavailable in Quebec.
  • A recent variation has appeared in an add campaign with the disclaimer "offer not available in Manitoba"
  • Throughout Canada in general, if it's not run by a non-profit, it must also have some form of skill-testing, even a simple math problem, excluding many US promotions.
  • The city of Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada was apparently bribed to do this; EB Games (since bought out by GameStop; those that are still EB Games simply didn't feel like changing the signs) are prohibited from buying used games in city limits, because the pawn shops "complained" that the chain stores took away their business.
  • Lampshaded by Tony Kornheiser on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption. After the standard half hour, he and Mike Wilbon "toss it up to Sports Center," but briefly interrupt (no pun intended) the latter show with an extra segment, the "Big Finish," During which they truly close out their show. This extra segment isn't aired in Canada, so at the end of every show, Kornheiser waves a Canadian flag and says "Goodnight, Canada."
  • A variation, some randomly pulled cards could be exchanged by mail for small prizes: Canadians had to complete a brief math problem to get their prize.

Latin America

Europe

  • In the United Kingdom, this is "Not available in Northern Ireland", or more exotically, "Not available in the Republic of Ireland, Isle of Man, Channel Islands or Gibraltar."
    • Related: In the ITV Border TV region, which covers both sides of the England-Scotland border, "Only available in Carlisle" appears on commercials with perplexing frequency (Carlisle being a city on the English side). It's not particularly clear why Carlisle is such a hub for novel products like Pop Tarts.
    • The United Kingdom contains several nations with their own laws and regulations, so it makes sense that doing business across these borders sometimes runs into barriers. Northern Ireland is also separated from the other UK nations by sea (though not from the Republic of Ireland, but this is an entirely different country to the UK), so it's harder to deliver stuff - Orkney and Shetland sometimes get excluded for the same reason.
    • This is played with in a TV advertisement for an insurance company who only operate in Northern Ireland which includes the slogan "Excludes England, Scotland and Wales" as a "disclaimer."
    • One particularly notable thing is that, despite that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are countries right next to each other, with a barely-existent border, and are so small that people prefer referring to them as one... there are still loads of offers open to Northern Ireland but not the Republic of Ireland, simply because the former is a UK nation while the latter isn't!
    • Although Real Life Comics offers another explanation...
    • Averted in the Republic of Ireland where most offers are made available to "viewers in the North", despite Northern Ireland legally being a different country, largely for nationalistic reasons. Often a second phone line will be set up to cater for Northern Ireland.
  • Inverted in Italy: It's "islands included," referring to Sicily and Sardinia. Sometimes the minor islands (Elba, Pantelleria, etc), however, will be excluded, or, more frequently, just have to pay a higher fee.
  • Occurs quite frequently (likely due to legal differences) with contests in German media also issued in Austria. Usually accompanied by something in the vein of "unfortunately void for our Austrian viewers/readers."
    • In teleshopping or quiz shows is usual to find different telephone numbers (charged at different rates) for Germany, Austria and (sometimes) Switzerland.
  • In Denmark, all sorts of stuff is often "void in Greenland and the Faeroe Islands". Probably because the islands in question are so fricking far away from Denmark itself. (Danes are not used to long distances...)
    • Greenland is a bit of an oddity, being part of Denmark and therefore Europe legally and economically, but much closer to North America geographically. Have they ever considered seceding from Denmark and joining Canada?
      • Yes, or joining the US or become independent or whatnot and Denmark would love to be rid of Greenland. But they want the Danes to pay a fortune since Greenland is heavily subsidized by Denmark, and they want to keep their hospitals. The Danes are willing to keep paying that subsidy while Greenland is part of Denmark, but not for an independent county, or to get rid of Greenland. Pretty much the same for the Faeroe Islands.
  • Eastpak backpacks have a lifetime warranty pretty much all over the world, but the warranty is limited to "only" 30 years in Germany, maximum allowed by the civil code since lifetime warranties are illegal.
  • In France it seems to be the départements/térritoires d'outre-mer (overseas departments and territories), abbreviated as DOM/TOM. If they're not excluded from offers, they'll often get higher prices. But considering that, while legally part of France, some of these are actually on the other side of the world, this makes a small amount of sense.
  • Frequent in Spain, the phrase "valid in the Peninsula and the Balearic Islands" is stated in most ads, thus excluding the far from the mainland Canary Islands.
    • And also excluding Ceuta and Melilla, the two north-african cities that have special taxes (just as Canary Islands).
    • However is not strange seeing that Balearic Islands are also excluded, resulting in "only valid in the Peninsula".
    • There's also an inversion. Sometimes these ads state that the offer is valid in "Spain, Andorra and/or Gibraltar".
  • BBC One Scotland is exactly the same as BBC One in the rest of the UK, except when it isn't. For a long time this meant the continuity announcer trailing an exciting new programme, and then hastily adding "except for viewers in Scotland". This has become a bit of a meme; for example when Scottish Nationalist leader Alex Salmond was on Have I Got News for You:

 "And on Ian's team is a one-note politician with a chip on his shoulder about the English. Except for viewers in Scotland, who'll be seeing a much-loved elder statesman with intriguing views on devolution."

    • On a similar note, for most of the 1980s and 1990s, BBC Northern Ireland showed its local evening news magazine at an earlier time to the other BBC nations and regions. To do this, it would opt-out halfway through the final presenter link of Children's BBC, which would lead the CBBC presenter to say "Goodbye Northern Ireland!" before continuing for another minute or two for the rest of the viewers.


United States and related

  • Puerto Rico, Alaska and Hawaii get excluded quite a bit as well, especially from travel offers.
    • And long-distance calling or cell phone plans, though with how cutthroat competitive the industry is getting, this is steadily fading away.
  • "Price Slightly Higher West of the Rockies" used to be fairly common in U.S. advertisements, but improved transportation infrastructure and more facilities on the Pacific coast have rendered this a quaint reminder of the late 20th century.
    • Which might explain why it's now "Prices higher in Alaska and Hawaii."
    • Red Lobster takes this to the hilt, reminding the viewer that not only are their prices higher in Alaska and Hawaii, they are also higher at the chain's Times Square location (which is more likely to take advantage of tourism than anything).
      • And it's worth noting that there isn't a single Red Lobster in New England.
    • Now Wendy's and KFC are promising their meats will be fresh (refrigerated) and not frozen in the continental US.
      • About 5 years ago, KFC abandoned southeastern Kansas. Now, anyone in this area who wants some KFC has to make a 6 hour round trip to get it.
  • Massachusetts until recently heavily regulated auto insurance and thus auto companies could not set their own rates. Despite this, advertisements claiming "safe driver discounts" and such are constantly being played on Boston TV with fine print at the bottom noting that you can't buy it in this state.
    • These ads, were, of course, aimed at viewers in New Hampshire. (Much of southern New Hampshire television is broadcast from Boston).
  • If you have a gift card, chances are the fine print will tell you that a monthly "service charge" will be applied to your credit starting a year from purchase, except where prohibited. California is one state that prohibits retailers from slowly eating away your unused credit.
  • In Southern California, a Metrolink rail ticket can get you on every bus for free or at a discount - unless you happen to be going to or from Santa Monica.
  • The Lifelock company, which basically promised to protect your identity from any theft, ever, but people still had it happen, including the founder of the company, who would demonstrate the products effectiveness by putting his Social Security number on billboards. Now, laws have been passed that make them unable to offer the anti-theft guarantee it still makes in some states. New York is the big one.


The Internet

  • Even the Internet falls victim to this. Because television shows are almost always licensed for viewing only in certain countries, online players will usually block users from foreign countries. Never mind asking why the networks prefer to limit their potential advertising base, but they do. YouTube offers the ability to do this as well because it offers content from television networks. It's probably easier to list sites that don't do this. Unauthorized uploads on Vimeo and the like obviously don't count.
    • This leads to such absurdities like a Sony ad not being viewable in Germany because it contains music by ... Sony Entertainment.
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