One of the key problems in the advertising industry is the concept that an ad is a form of expressing a legal contract.  Really?

Somewhere in the days following Mad Men, the idea took hold that a commercial was an offer of a contract so all the legal conditions and disclaimers started to be added.

This was an extension of the need for commercials to be truthful.  Which, by and large, is in the advertisers best interest anyway.   Duping people rips your reputation a new one.

Anyone with a brand worth millions of dollars would be a fool to be untruthful.  Shady… well maybe.  But back to the contract question.

Most commercials are not looking to make an immediate sale.  They want the viewers to go somewhere else for the transaction – either to a bricks and mortar retailer or a website or somewhere.  That is where the details of the transaction should be ironed out.

The advertising is simply a lure.  True advertising should be honest; and so should lawyers.  But not all of them are.  Adding a bunch of mouse type that no one can read, or throwing in some disclaimers that make some lawyer happy but are otherwise of no benefit.  They obfuscate rather than clarify.  Which is what lawyers do.  Their goal is to get you to use their services, not to resolve things.

Some advertising, like that directed to children, does need to address the fact that kids don’t always understand everything.  But even then studies show kids grasp way more than adults generally give them credit for.

To me, the overall impact of the paragraphs of legal disclaimers in commercials like those for car deals is to suggest that the offer is disingenuous, shifty, insincere, laden with catches.  These undermines the sincerity of the offer.  Think of all the car advertising you have seen.  The big 3 American companies have been peppering us with legal mouse print for years and that has led us to distrust them.

An even bigger joke are the drug commercials.  The notion there is that your doctor is a dummy and doesn’t know to recommend “midixaflopin” for that serious condition you think you have.  Keep in mind, say the lawyers, that your suggestion may cause anal leakage and any of a range of side effects, including death.  So if you are stupid enough to recommend this compound to your doctor and die from it, well… we warned you – amidst a full bafflegab of other stuff pointing you in all directions.

My point again is that the concept of advertising as an offer of contract is flawed.  No one in their right mind takes every comment as being a legal comment?

A lot of our lives are led outside the limited vision of law – If I say “Have a nice day!” am I guaranteeing your happiness for 24 hours?  I think not.

Developing creative within legal parameters is like a game.  Thankfully, lawyers look at the words and never really understand it is the total impression of the message that matters.  That’s why they like contracts.  Contracts are two dimensional.  Video is three dimensional and can even add suggestions that create a fourth implicit level of communications.

We have had great success in dealing with legal parameters and skating with them.  But it takes a skilled copywriter to be effective within the legal muffler that is often applied.  (Some assembly required.  Batteries not included.)

Advertising should not be considered a form of contract.  But the power in today’s times are with the lawyers, not reason.

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