Warning: Ads pull us closer with tiny disclaimers

The message in tiny-type advertising disclaimers: Try this at home, and show your friends.

The commercial opens with a car whipping around a corner. The boilerplate adland disclaimer in tiny type on the bottom of the screen — "Professional driver. Closed course." — has become so familiar over the years that we know what it says without the bother of squinting to read it.

That's when Godzilla plucks the car off the street and tosses it into his mouth like a piece of popcorn. In the chaos of combat, someone makes a crack about the monster that has stomped, snorted and chewed his way through scenery like this for 60 years having an appetite for Italian.

But because squealing tires, gunshots, a gigantic monster stomping about, a city block in fiery ruins, untold carnage and a wince-worthy pun can't be counted on to grab our attention and hold it these days, there's one more little — very, very little — attempt to snag us. It's a grace note, another fine-print disclaimer, on screen all of two seconds.

As Godzilla gags trying to give the bonbon treatment to a Fiat 500L subcompact — a prelude to the regurgitated vehicle and the five people inside it speeding safely away in service of a tagline about the car being bigger than one might think — the three-word blip may not even register at first.

"Didn't actually happen," it says, if you eventually can make it out.

What it should say is: "Ha! Made you look."

This is a thing now. It's not a new thing. Remember lying Joe Isuzu in the '80s? But the added twists and twaddle have grown more common as marketers begin to recognize both the need for them and the ability to exploit them have never been greater.

In a multiscreen world with an ever wider array of available content, consumers can avoid advertising more easily than ever, yet they also choose to watch some commercials over and over. So there is increasing incentive for marketers to play in the margins and just as television shows such as "Game of Thrones" and "Mad Men" have enough layers to reward repeated viewing, so do some of the ads.

Tactics like the unnecessary or wry disclaimer compel us to lean forward and pay closer attention to what we're seeing. They encourage and reward repeated viewing. And if we deem the payoff worth the trouble, we may actually share it with friends through social media.

"What's accelerated it is the ability for people to repeatedly watch advertisements," said John Kenny, executive vice president and head of strategic planning for FCB Chicago, part of global agency FCB (Foote Cone & Belding). "The advertisements have to be good enough that you want to share them and that they reward repeated viewing.

"Twenty years ago, you had no control over when you would see an ad. It didn't have to engage you as much as great advertising has to engage you now. An ad today increasingly has to be share worthy, and to be share worthy, it has to be dense and multilayered."

Even if would-be car-buyers were wowed by seeing a Chevy Sonic maneuver like a skateboard, it's a safe bet that anyone of driving age would at most chuckle at the on-screen warning: "Sonic is not a skateboard."

Ditto for the off-the-cliff-and-airborne Ford Fusion ad that notes: "Cars cannot fly." And the Hyundai Elantra spot that says: "Cars can't jump over buses." And the one with a Nissan Rogue making a beeline to work, as if some unseen kid's toy: "Fantasy, do not attempt. Cars can't jump on trains."

You see the pattern, right? The takeaway is not an abundance of caution on the part of carmakers. It's that they want their vehicles to seem fun, connect with some childhood memory and know you think you're too smart to be taken in by any of it.

"Millennials love content that plays with conventions and has a twist on a standard cliche, so if brands can play with one of those cliches in an interesting, fun way, that gets a lot of sharing," Kenny said.

If marketers can score millions of impressions via social media, as Kmart did with the "Ship my pants" and "Big gas savings" spots FCB Chicago created — say the names aloud to guess why people might have found them amusing — then it's both cheaper and more valuable than buying a lot of broadcast and cable TV time.

Goofy disclaimers are like Easter eggs, hidden prizes for those motivated to find them. Like when mixed martial artist Chuck Liddell takes out a computer-generated image of a rhino to make some kind of point about DuraLast car batteries, the warning reads: "Fictionalization. Do not attempt. Duh! No rhinos were harmed."

No rhinos were used.

It's not that disclaimers are altogether unnecessary. Mess up a real one and it's a big deal.

The Federal Communications Commission in March fined Viacom, Comcast and Disney $1.9 million for too-closely mimicking a disaster alert in ads for the movie "Olympus Has Fallen" with "This is not a test" on screen.

Featured Stories

CTnow is using Facebook comments on stories. To comment on ctnow.com articles, sign into Facebook and enter your comment in the field below. Comments will appear in your Facebook News Feed unless you choose otherwise. To report spam or abuse, click the X next to the comment. For guidelines on commenting, click here.

BUSINESS MIDDAY


BUSINESS MIDDAY

Business Midday Get daily business news sent directly to your inbox for free weekdays at 1 p.m.



SEE SAMPLE | SIGN IN
After signing in, click on your username at the top left of this screen and then on "My Newsletter Subscriptions."