Incomprehensible legal copy begs difficult questions about truth in advertising.

February 21, 2013

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“Radio lies and apologizes at the same time. Just like my husband!”

Driving my daughter to school the other day she became perplexed by a commercial on the radio, specifically the hurried voice over at the end of it. You know what I’m talking about. The legal copy advertisers are obligated to run warning consumers about certain claims, mitigating the ancient notion of caveat emptor (buyer beware). Here, the voice over is noticeably sped up to fit all the information into as small a space as possible. Like you, I’ve become jaded by this chip monk-sounding gibberish. Sometimes I don’t even hear it.

Naturally, my children are more curious. And I don’t blame them for laughing. The sped-up VO is patently ridiculous, helping neither the advertiser nor the consumer. It’s an industry practice started some time ago, likely mandated by a government consumer watchdog. For all I know Ralph Nader is to blame.

“I don’t get it,” my daughter said. “Those men at the end of the commercial are forced into telling us the commercial isn’t telling the truth?”

I nod. “Something like that.”

“And that’s what forced the people who made the commercial to make the guy talk so fast in the first place. So nobody could understand him?”

“Yes… Sort of.”

“But that’s crazy, Dad!”

“Try reading the microscopic type they use in print ads. It’s even worse.”

My daughter crinkled her nose, as if smelling something disagreeable. “Wouldn’t it be better if nobody lied in the first place?”

“Of course,” I stammered. “But advertising is different.” Immediately, I hated my answer. But I had nothing better. Thankfully, music returned to the radio. I turned it up and we drove away from the question.

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5 Responses to “Incomprehensible legal copy begs difficult questions about truth in advertising.”

  1. Jo said

    Just recorded a radio spot for a client. It was supposed to be a :45/:15. After the lawyers got through with it, we ended up with a whopping 22 seconds of legal, which of course meant we had to cut the body of the spot down (as the :15 offer tag is “sacred ground”). Basically, any bit of creative that remained was rendered utterly useless in the name of “compliance”.

  2. Reminds me of an Oracle campaign I once worked on. Just before going live on TV, radio and print, the legal guys came back with GOBS of disclaimer. Larry said, and I’m paraphrasing, “Fuck you, run the ads. I’ve got more lawyers than anyone else.” The ads ran without incident. You gotta love Larry Ellison.

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