Wednesday, January 3, 2007

What Happened To "Keep It Simple, Stupid"?

What The Ad Copy Giveth, The Fine Print Confuseth

By David Miranda

Today, there is no doubt we live in a more litigious business environment with frivolous lawsuits sometimes making headlines for their outrageousness. Remember the person who sued over spilled coffee because it was "too hot" or the person who sued because fast food made them obese? Ridiculous, yes, but the response to this insanity is just as insane. The fine print wordage in ads now exceeds the ad copy. Good marketing has been hijacked by corporate legalese. One frustrated marketer told me his company is now "a law firm that sells stuff" and it takes longer for a marketing program "get through legal" than it took to develop the campaign in the first place. The "legalese" that is intended to clarify, actually confuses the prospective buyer.

Here's an example.

Thumbing through USAToday, I stopped at a 3/4 page color ad from United Airlines including some attention-getting sample fares with the following lead headline and copy:

Our low fares come nicely equipped.
Get a free rental day from Hertz when you book a sale fare on United.

Book a low fare on United, rent a Hertz full-size or larger vehicle for three or more days and get one day free*. You'll always find the guaranteed lowest fare* at, pay no booking fees and earn up to 500 Mileage Plus bonus miles. Go online or call 1-800-UNITED-1 today.

The bottom 25% of the ad, in microscopic fine print, contained the terms, conditions, caveats, disclaimers, etc. The following is how these terms, conditions, etc. qualify the offer.

Fares are each way on required round trip purchase. Tickets must be purchased at least 14 days in advance and ticketed within 24 hours of making reservations, but no later than 1/09/07. Reservations and tickets purchased on must be completed simultaneously. Fares shown are valid on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday. Fares are not valid for travel 2/16/07, 2/19/07, and 2/25/07. Seats are limited and may not be available on all flights or dates. Fares require 2-night minimum stay. Fares do not include a $3.30 per flight segment tax or $2.50 per flight segment September 11 Security Fee. Fares do not include Passenger Facility Charges of up to $18. Tickets purchased through United reservation offices are $15 per ticket higher and tickets purchased at airport ticket counters are $20 per ticket higher. Fares purchased through other distribution channels may also be higher. To qualify for the Hertz free rental day, one must book a qualifying United flight and rent a Hertz full-size or larger vehicle for three or more weekend days, or five or more days. The offer may not be available at some times in some locations especially during periods of peak demand. Blackout dates may apply.

The above fine print is an edited version of the actual, but I challenge anyone to make heads or tails of it. Considering the ad was touched by many at United and its agency, wasn't there anyone in the food chain who spoke up and said "this is too confusing and may defeat the purpose of trying to sell airline seats (and Hertz vehicles)"?

Brands should make a New Year's resolution that the wordage in the fine print should not exceed the wordage in the offer. A less confused consumer is more likely to purchase something.