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Etymology: Don't try this at home

Posted by: Fell Gray on February 23, 2012

Have you ever been drawn into a great TV ad for something you have to have? Just as you're considering buying that shiny new object, you're hit with a fast-paced, monotone voiceover expounding on various rules, exceptions and provisos. Sound familiar?

It used to be that a promise to customers was conveyed with your word and a handshake; now we have 100-page "Terms and Conditions" documents in their place. Our litigious society has caused legal counsel to become deeply involved in communications, from warnings to ad copy. And while you should never underestimate the importance of their input, legal teams can sometimes silence brand voice as they try to keep businesses out of lawsuits and on the right side of regulations.

Some brand and legal teams, however, have worked to find common ground—and creative success—with disclaimers, finding ways to create communications central to the brand experience that are on-voice and in compliance. And legal teams are seeing a reciprocal benefit. Writing consistently on-voice does more than make a cohesive customer experience; it gets people to pay attention to the legalese again.

Potential side effects are…
In the realm of alcoholic beverages, brands from Grey Goose to Captain Morgan have found their own ways to tell us to be safe as we have a good time. Hennessy told us to "Flaunt Responsibly," beginning a wave of brand twists on the standard social responsibility sign-off.

Currently, the standard automobile safety message is front and center in two campaigns. The Mercedes "Disclaimer" ad has the C-class whipping around lawyers who stand sentinel in the desert as they solemnly convey standard disclaimers ("Professional drivers; closed course." "Always wear a seatbelt."). Elsewhere, the Nissan Frontier slaloms down a snow-covered mountain while fine print reminds you, "Fantasy. Trucks can't snowboard."

Brands who partner with legal teams — early and often — find there's more freedom than they might have thought. So talk to each other, and then get yourself heard.

This week's guest author, Fell Gray, is Director of Verbal Identity at Interbrand, and a specialist in Brand Voice.

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