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Think BR: Truth, lies and caveats

Caveats get a bad press, forever branded as the sneaky legal loophole for exaggerated advertising claims, writes Adele Meer, planner, AIS London.

Adele Meer, planner, AIS London

Adele Meer, planner, AIS London

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If we can lose the negativity, could caveats be seen as a hero in advertising - the good disciple to the headline, supporting it, rather than playing Judas by betraying it?

I’m talking about the teeny * , †  or T. Or even, when things get carried away, the **†.  The small print that states the truth behind the headlines - whether you want it or not.

As advertisers, we’re in a quandary - use the caveat or not? On the one hand, they allow us to be punchy and creative in our headlines, without drowning in legal jargon. But on the other, we know that as soon as people see that *, it blanks out the headline.

In their eyes, however small our * and corresponding small print (within legal restrictions of course), they’ll see it in a font size of 3423, in bold, double-underlined and highlighted. There’s no missing ’em. And, each one, every time, gives a reason to trust the brand in question a little bit less.

Obviously, a perfect world would be one free of caveats, and still full of punchy, creative headlines. But when the minutiae of the message means different things for different people, it’s near impossible.

The insurance, finance and energy markets are all prime examples. Savings will vary, based on individual circumstances and behaviour. Even a moisturising cream could make a 50% difference to one person and 5% to another.

It’s this detail that is hard to accommodate if the aim is a punchy headline. Even if we resort to the classic contender of ‘up to’ to get around the issue of variance, it still needs an accompanying * to explain how the ‘up to’ was calculated.

Of course, clever use of data and personalisation are the best ways to minimise need of the caveat. Fine if we’re talking to known customers. But it’s not as easy when talking to prospects, because we won’t necessarily know what we’re comparing to.

The real get-out clause is to find something different to say. Something other than price, which is universally true, and undisputable. Easier said than done when you’re in a price-obsessed market.

Again, it’s where the insurance, finance and energy markets struggle, and are unlikely to step away from anytime soon - even though they have created the advertising equivalent of an impossible optical illusion where every brand claims they can save you money.

So, even with the best intentions, all evidence suggests that the caveat is going to continue to thrive, whatever we throw at it. Is there another tack we could take to soften the impact of its betrayal?

I believe we should re-brand the caveat.

Behind all the prejudice and bad-feeling, there’s a kind-hearted soul, just trying to tell the truth about things. Wouldn’t it be nice if the caveat could be the pleasing accompaniment to the headline, instead of the skeleton in the closet?

How?

We turn * into :-)*

(* My apologies to any anti-emoticoners out there. I myself actively avoid all smiley faces, LOLs and over-zealous use of exclamation marks, but as a planner, popular culture should always win out against my personal preferences.)

Adele Meer, planner, AIS London

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