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Don’t try this at home: Brand voice meets legal

Partnering with legal is an opportunity to get your brand voice heard in unexpected ways.

Ever been drawn into a great TV ad for something you have to have? Then, just as you’re considering buying, 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 that are central to the brand experience, 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…

Legal disclaimers have saturated popular culture to the point that entire advertising campaigns riff on them. In 2000, E-Trade ran an advertisement for a non-existent drug called Nozulla, with side-effects that include “full-body hair loss” and “the condition known as Hotdog Fingers”. The ad ends to reveal an E-Trade customer who was watching the commercial promptly selling their shares. Your customers already expect awkward or misleading disclaimers, but by subverting this expectation, you can make a connection somewhere surprising.

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.

The standard automobile safety message has become a playground for marketers. 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.” And an Altima commercial advises “You will never be allowed to do this on a test drive. Ever.” Similarly, after soaring off of a cliff and over the countryside, a Ford Fusion commercial from 2013 warns viewers “Do not attempt. Cars cannot fly.”

Those 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.


Executive Director, Verbal Identity
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