Read The Fine Print

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Nobody reads the fine print.

It’s either too small, too jargon-y, too legalese or too confusing. Marketing (and the brands we serve) is not doing itself a favor by promoting any kind of special offer knowing full well that the hoops a consumer has to jump through to actually get that special offer is nearly-impossible to overcome. Nobody likes the fine print and nobody reads the fine print, so this leads to a high level of friction and mistrust between consumers and brands (not to mention the pressure it puts on customer service post-sale).

It’s not all about the brands.

Many industries (pharma, automotive, financial, mobile, etc…) have varying levels of regulations, laws and rules that govern how they can market their products and services, but there is a better way to make this work. Instead of having a bunch of unreadable fine print, why not have one simple line that says: "our products are highly regulated by the government. If you would like to take advantage of this offer, please ensure that you can qualify by reading our terms and services available here…" and push them to a place (either online or by sending them something physical in the mail) where they can take the proper time to figure out if they qualify? Pushing that concept further: have two versions – one that is written in human language and the legal-ridden one as well.

"It’s much more work and many consumers won’t make that kind of effort."

The brand marketers who respond with that kind of statement are right. Marketing is hard work and getting a consumer to switch or try out their brand in the first place is a big deal. That doesn’t mean that it should be done through misrepresentation or confusion simply because it makes the Marketer’s jobs easier. The era of human business is upon us. People like Chris Brogan have been Blogging about this forever (his new company is actually called, Human Business Works), Gary Vaynerchuk‘s next book is called, The Thank You Economy, and it also focuses on the humanization of business, and finally, Seth Godin‘s latest book, Poke The Box, continues his evolving business philosophy around moving business, leadership and management from a machine-like process to a more human engagement.

Change is upon us.

In a world where the only connection a consumer had with a brand was through an advertisement, it made perfect sense that brands would have to cram all of that fine print into their messaging. But in a world where more and more people have access to many more brand channels, the fine print suddenly becomes both a deterrent and creates the aura of confusion. There is a better way, and (perhaps), by driving consumers to a place where they can better understand what this promotion means and how to qualify, they will not only have a better brand engagement, but a longer one that brings them into multiple channels. Unfortunately, we’re still currently at that moment in time where the work we’re doing with all of this fine print makes us as credible as a Saturday Night Live parody (which is, exactly, what it has become).

Can’t you feel it?


  1. I read an article about the legal jargon you now see at the end of e-mails which is essentially worthless because there is no law that supports the claims it makes. You know, the “this e-mail is confidential and is intended…” stuff. When the legal print preventing me from reading the email is longer than the email itself, it may very well find its way to the recycle bin before I get through it.
    The problem, Mitch, is that we live in a litigious society. Disputes are no longer settled by discussion. They are settled by courts of all sizes because it’s so easy. One can work the conspiracy theory down to the fact that it’s all about money. Why argue with someone about right and wrong just to be right, when you can sue them and make money off it?
    The point is that apathy has set in. People are tired of the legality of everything. The human language is refreshing because people GET IT. They know what it means.
    To that end, the better a brand does and getting to know the customer (and vice versa) the less we have to worry about the legality of the relationship.

  2. Sidebar comment: Looking at it from another angle.
    I find it hard to trust any offer that ends with “Terms and Conditions apply”.
    t’s the equivalent of saying “Strings Attached” or “Warning: We’re Lying.”
    When people use that term, they mean that they can’t keep the promise they’ve just made to you – and all likelihood, what you thought you were paying for doesn’t equate with the reality of what you’re going to get.
    Those four words are worth a lot of money: yours. The person using it is looking to part you from it.
    I think it would be refreshing if brands decided to not try to screw their consumers over with fine print (in 8pt type, printed white on grey, up for 5.5 seconds at the end of a TVC) and instead tried to show real value for money. Of course, in a world as litigious as this one (as Paul pointed out above), that’s probably a pipe dream built out of risk. Someone will try to “get their own back” on a brand (like the moron who sued Macdonalds for not telling her that her fresh, hot coffee was hot) and we’ll be right back where we started. Still I live in hope…
    Great article as always, Mitch…

  3. Sadly, Paul and Amod are probably right. Yet, I remember once seeing terms and conditions laid out beautifully (can’t remember who it was, probably some software vendor). There were two columns: on the left the legal department’s version, on the right a column headed “What this means”. Excellent job.

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