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Swatek Joe 2013-11

Disclaimer Eats Up Ad Space

Remember the early video game, Pac Man? The round yellow video creature traveled through the mazes and chomped up everything in its path.

Disclaimer copy is like that, except not as cute and it certainly eats more of your precious ad space. Here’s a prime example in a recent newspaper ad. (Click on the image for a larger view.)


The ad measures 10.5 x 4.75 inches and the disclaimer copy at the bottom covers almost 3.5 inches. That’s one-third of the ad.

Credit the designer who laid out this ad for giving it one small advantage by the way he or she set it up. The average reader will look at the top two-thirds of the ad and believe it ends at the green line just under the bank’s logo. I know when I first glanced at the ad tucked in the corner of the page, I didn’t associate the huge block of small print with the rest of the ad.

Why so much disclaimer copy? All the better to explain the $125 multi-step offer in snooze-inducing legalese.

How can it be handled differently? I recommend omitting all details of the steps. Simply tell the reader she gets up to $125 when she opens a new checking account and completes some easy steps. Then, your disclaimer copy says, succinctly: Steps include using direct deposit, making purchases with both debit card and credit card, and using e-statements. Cash rewards vary by step and steps are rewarded individually when completed. Ask us for details.

Face it, the $125 amount is the big one that grabs attention. Make it bigger. Omit the smaller amounts except for stating that you (the new customer) start with $25 simply by opening the checking account.

Those edits eliminate the need for the lackluster headline. Instead, promote the angle that interests people: Get up to $125 when you open a checking account! I realize the new headline eliminates the reason for the cute kid photo, but sacrifices must be made for good advertising. (I trust the artist to find another attractive, appropriate photo.)

Also, since humor is subjective to each person, some readers might miss the pun and take the headline with the photo literally. Then what does it mean?

Look through this blog’s archive and see other critiques that focus on the good and bad points of print ads, mail pieces, and so on. See ways to improve your own advertising.


Here are some practical tips for using footnotes or disclaimer copy.

See how one bank found a clever way to combat consumers’ dislike of disclaimers.

Tagsad spaceAdvertisingbankblogcash rewardchecking accountCredit Carddebit carddirect depositdisclaimere-statementheadlinemail piecenewspaper adprint ad

  • David KMarch 26, 2012

    Joe, thanks for linking to a larger version of the ad.
  • Diane FarrellMarch 27, 2012

    Joe, I agree with you. However, under the new regulatory environment, once our compliance department reviews an ad such as this, your suggestion would be met with "guidance" that we must be explicit with our "steps" so we comply with UDAP. And, since UDAP does not have specific language.... the requirements are left up to the interpretation of examiners and auditors. So we must thoroughly disclose.