National Post

March 30, 2002

Sign of the times: Firm offers paternity testing on billboard

Susan Heinrich
National Post


Chris Bolin, National Post.
A sign advertising DNA testing is posted along a Toronto highway.

A huge billboard looming over one of Toronto's busiest expressways asks the thousands of motorists who race by each day the ominous question: "Are you the father? Be Sure."

Genetest Laboratories Inc., a Mississauga, Ont., firm that offers a sophisticated paternity testing service, has launched a billboard advertising campaign that is thought to be the first of its kind in Canadian for such a service.

The five-metre-by-nine-metre billboard stands alongside the Gardiner Expressway, near the city's downtown core.

"In Canada the paternity testing business is not well known," Baseer Haqqani, a spokesman for Genetest, said. "Canadians are not as well versed with it as U.S. customers for some reason."

Until now, advertising touting paternity tests has appeared mostly in legal journals.

Genetest initially targeted lawyers through direct marketing by e-mail, Mr. Haqqani said. But his son, Omar Haqqani, president of Genetest, came up with the idea for a billboard when he learned of the success of such ads in the United States, one of which has the toll-free number 1-800-R U MY DAD.

Paternity testing is becoming so common in the United States that talk shows use the topic as a way to attract viewers during the all-important sweeps period. Ratings for the Maury Povich show, ranked third behind The Oprah Winfrey Show and Live with Regis and Kelly, increase an average of 6% when paternity testing is featured, the New York Times reported.

There is a rising demand for paternity tests, Mr. Haqqani said. His business has doubled in each of the last four years and his company recently expanded into Buffalo, N.Y.

Paternity tests began to be marketed commercially in the late 1990s, when DNA technology evolved to a point where testing was simple, fast and relatively inexpensive. Today all that is required to determine paternity with 99.9% certainty is a swab from the child's mouth and one from each of the supposed parents. The test costs between $500 and $1,000, and results are usually available within a week.

The company's next campaign will be for another service designed to root out wayward spouses: sperm detection. For US$400, Genetest will perform analysis on any article of clothing or linens to determine the presence of sperm, and provide proof of infidelity.

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