5 things I hate about TV commercials (#2)

#2: Disclaimers

Disclaimers are appearing in more and more commercials. At first, they were stuck onto the end of car commercials in tiny and utterly unreadable-sized print telling the viewer that their car was subject to various taxes and that various discounts could not be combined and that the dealer may sell for less.

Fine.

Then something happened. Was it an increase in litigation? Was it an increase in a fear of litigation? Was it an increase in people foolishly attempting to do the same things they saw on television? I’m not sure. But the disclaimers followed:

First, the typical “Professional Driver, closed course” tacked onto the bottom of a car commercial showing a regular driver zipping speedily along an empty country road.

Slightly more daring car commercials — perhaps with the driver drifting expertly between parked cars to get into an otherwise-impossible-to-get-into parking spot — might also have a “Do not attempt” added. As if someone might think for a moment that there was suddenly a new way they could finally get into those tight spots without having to parallel park.

But now disclaimers are moving out of the realm of car commercials. “Do not attempt” is seen in all kinds of places — anywhere where an activity might raise your heartbeat above normal. With obesity becoming an epidemic, it might be helpful to see this disclaimer at the bottom of fast food commercials.

Similarly, impossible-to-do activities in commercials are coming with a “Dramatization” disclaimer to inform viewers that the actors on television must still obey the laws of physics.

One of the disclaimers I love to hate is usually found in commercials for toothpaste or over-the-counter medicine: a silver-haired man in a white labcoat is seen talking about the benefits of using this particular brand of product. (Notice how he’ll take off his glasses when it’s time to get serious?). And at the bottom of the screen, for those viewers who foolishly assumed that this was the one commercial in the history of commercials where they brought in a real doctor to shill a product, the disclaimer is noted: “Actor portraying a doctor” or maybe “Not an actual medical professional” or something like that. It has made me wonder what would happen if I donned a white labcoat and walked down the street. Would someone call me “doctor”?

Another disclaimer I love to hate is found in the various prescription medicine commercials that dominate television. Remember when they weren’t on television? Someone somewhere changed their mind a few years ago and said that pharmaceutical companies could advertise as long as they included a disclaimer. Now here’s my favorite part: the disclaimer is often longer than the pitch itself. Which means the hook and pitch of the commercial are fairly short and the disclaimer ends up as a run-on sentence:
Men taking nitrate drugs, often used to control chest pain (also known as angina), should not take LEVITRA. Men who use alpha blockers, sometimes prescribed for high blood pressure or prostate problems, also should not take LEVITRA. Such combinations could cause blood pressure to drop to an unsafe level. You should not take LEVITRA if your doctor determines that sexual activity poses a health risk for you. Men who experience an erection for more than four hours should seek immediate medical attention. LEVITRA does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases. The starting dose of LEVITRA is 10 mg taken no more than once per day. Your doctor will decide the dose that is right for you. In patients taking certain medications such as ritonavir, indinavir, ketoconazole, itraconazole, and erythromycin, lower doses of LEVITRA are recommended, and time between doses of LEVITRA may need to be extended. In clinical trials, the most commonly reported side effects were headache, flushing, and stuffy or runny nose. LEVITRA is available in 2.5 mg, 5 mg, 10 mg, and 20 mg tablets.

Because there is so much material for the pharmaceutical companies to cover, they have to hire someone to narrate who might also be a qualified auctioneer, although lately I’ve noticed that they’re getting their actors to deliver the disclaimers in a way that sounds caring.

And since it takes so long to deliver, the montage of on-screen shots usually depicts a 55+ woman running through the surf in a pastel-colored pantsuit, holding a silky scarf above her head. I’m not sure why.

Recently, I saw a disclaimer that made me angry when I saw it, but has had me laughing and feeling confused ever since. It was for a toilet paper or paper towel company and in the commercial, the roll of product is rolled out and suspended horizontally (and inexplicably) in the air. Then a puppy runs across it. I’m not sure why. The disclaimer at the bottom of the screen read “Puppy fantasy only”… as if your dog dreams of running across suspended toilet paper.

Clearly, these disclaimers are the product of company-paid attorneys who say: “someone might try this, we’ll need a disclaimer”. And because no one else knows the law, and the attorney is probably the highest paid person in the room, everyone goes along with it. And thus we get “Puppy fantasy only” disclaimers that make us dumber.

Maybe we should put one disclaimer on all commercials: “Please don’t sue us”.

This is a funny video making the rounds on the internet which parodies the pharmaceutical disclaimers mentioned above.

Here’s my disclaimer: Disclaimers are a part of life and I do recognize that they are necessary (either actually necessary, as in the earliest disclaimers to go to the dealership for more details, or legally necessary, as in the “please don’t sue us” variety). But at some point there is a threshold in which we cross over from informing the viewer to insulting the viewer.

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