Advertising, Courtesy of the Legal Beagles

Sometimes, advertising legalese really goes over the top. While a case can be made for clauses like, “Not valid with any other offer,” each additional restriction discourages customers from trying out your product or service. Advertising, coupons and special offers are supposed to encourage customers, not put up obstacles for them.

As an example, Steve Yastrow wrote a great article on Tom Peters’ blog about the error of forcing pharmaceutical companies to tell us a drug’s side effects in a soothing, sing-songy voice. His point is that no one should trust an advertisement to tell them everything they need to know about a drug. Consumers need to ask their doctors.

This week, in a Val-Pak mailing, I found another great example of advertising legalese run amok. As a marketing professional and graphic designer, I get a kick out of Val-Pak mailings. There are always a handful of instructive coupons that show precisely the wrong way to design an advertisement. Check out this outlandish instance of legalese:

“First time clients only. Valid ID requiredCoupon may not be bartered, copied, traded or sold.”

Can you imagine showing identification just to qualify for a $5 haircut? Checking IDs may be a foolproof way to ensure no existing clients use this coupon, but it is an unreasonable invasion of customers’ privacy.

Not only does this legalese clutter the advertisement and send an unfriendly vibe, it’s completely unenforceable. How will this company know if someone sold their $5 coupon for $3 or traded it for a baseball card? And why would they care? (I’m not a legal expert, but aren’t barter and trade synonyms?)

When writing your advertising copy, don’t get carried away by the legal beagles. If customers feel like you are trying to outsmart them, they will respond in one of two ways. 1. They will ignore your offer as not worth their time. 2. They will take it as a challenge to outsmart you, and they will probably win.

The most effective advertising, special offers and coupons will bring you smiling, happy customers. Aim for that goal, and skip the legalese.

1 thought on “Advertising, Courtesy of the Legal Beagles

  1. Amanda,
    Good point. I never understood offering a discount for “new clients only.” Shouldn’t your loyal customers have pricing that is at least as good as a new customer?


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