Warning: reading this column may have you nodding in agreement

Wouldn’t it be nice if people came with disclaimers?

Disposable coffee cups often warn “contents may be hot.” My hairdryer also has a laundry-list of disclaimers, including “do not use while sleeping.” Thanks.

I’m truly not sure how I lived this long without knowing such important information (yes, read that with a very sarcastic tone). Coors has beer cans that tell us when the beer is optimally cold. Obviously, the old method of touching the can was too difficult (yes, more sarcasm).

Our society is either getting collectively more stupid, or we have come to a point in time when fear of litigation rules supreme.

Disclaimer words are everywhere. They appear across the bottom of the television screen every time a “professional driver on a closed course” takes a car for a zoom zoom. This is not a necessary warning for me, I understand that it may not be in my best interests to find a slick road, drive 120 kilometres per hour, and suddenly pull a U-turn, but I suppose it must present a valid warning to someone out there.

More disclaimers appear on television shows highlighting strange feats of strength or courage, “do not try this at home.” I always wonder who is being talked to, because, again, the likelihood of me wanting to replicate rolling about in a bathtub full of snakes is very, very slim.

When did lawyers become an integral part of the marketing team for a product? Probably shortly after a hair dryer company was sued and lost when someone decided to blow dry their hair while they slept and burned their house down.

Perhaps we need to stop and ask: why would a lawyer decide it was reasonable to bring such a claim to court? Why would a judge not throw it out right away? How could a jury award them a penny? Isn’t survival of the fittest worth something anymore? Where did we go wrong?

I have to admire the strange brew of legalese creativity that lawyers bring to the table; finding simple words to release their company from any imaginable use of their product. It is an art form, but it seems like a lot of time and money is being wasted on such words.

There is never a pharmaceutical ad without: “side-effects of this product may include drowsiness, dry-mouth, nausea…” and a whole host of other bad things usually climaxing in heart attacks, strokes, or death. So why would I “ask my doctor about it”?

My Crest toothpaste tube says, “for best results, squeeze the tube from the bottom and flatten as you go up.” I am confident that the toothpaste will not get my teeth any cleaner by pushing the toothpaste from the bottom, so this disclaimer is not for liability but for marital harmony. It appears to be a cunning attempt to translate the desire of countless husbands and wives around the world to get their partner to stop squeezing the tube haphazardly in the middle.

(Women everywhere are now asking why someone hasn’t printed a disclaimer on the bottom of the toilet seat.)

Disclaimers are mainstream now. We know them as well as many corporate slogans, which is not surprising since both require a lot of money to create and reinforce.

Ask someone to give you a corporate slogan and they typically stumble to come up with something pervasive like Nike’s “just do it”. Ask someone for the words broadcast before controversial programming and most can rhyme off “the opinions expressed in the following program do not represent those of this station . . .”

The pendulum has clearly swung too far. Companies should not be afraid to sell their products without a litany of disclaimers. People, organizations, and governments should not be afraid to say they are sorry, worried that financial liability will follow.

Since I don’t see the state of the union changing anytime soon, I should get in on the game. Perhaps I’ll start a custom online T-shirt company, allowing people to chose from a number of personal disclaimers, or customize their own (it’s actually a decent idea!)

My business and personal interactions would go so much smoother if I had a disclaimer that moved with me saying: “The opinions expressed by this person are rooted in good intentions, and aimed at making the world a better place. Delivery may be awkward, seem abrasive or overly blunt. No ill will is intended. Alternate viewpoints are encouraged. Sugar-coating not required.”

Luckily, my good friends, family, and close co-workers already know my disclaimer, but for those of you outside that group – I’ll get that T-shirt printed up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *