Exceptions* Apply: Keeping Your Legal Text Quick and Cool

This month, we were inspired by a warning sign that a team member saw at the airport. It read: "SNOW GLOBES. Please be advised that snow globes are not allowed through the security checkpoint. Your safety is our priority," and came complete with a picture of an innocent-looking snow globe with big red "no" symbol over it. Naturally, it reminded us of email. While we have no doubt that legitimate snow globe air travel issues prompted the sign, its seeming randomness made us wonder: what warnings, disclaimers and other legal text ARE important for folks to see? And if they're so important, do they really belong in the tiny gray print at the bottom, or do they deserve a big sign? Here are our thoughts....

What MUST be in email legal text:

As all CAN-SPAM compliant emailers know, marketing emails need to include a physical address and an opt-out, both of which often end up in the legal text. The address (street or P.O. box) where your brand can receive actual, physical mail, makes it clear that you're not a scammer and gives subscribers one more contact point. (Transactional messages are exempt from these rules). If you don't include an opt-out link or address in the body of your email, the text at the bottom of your message is a good place for it.



Handling offer disclaimers and exclusions:

Details about special offers and sales -- "the fine print" -- often end up in the legal text at the bottom of messages as well. When deciding what makes sense to include in your legal text as opposed to in the email body, consider why subscribers need the info. Is it an exception that will apply only in rare situations, or information that most subscribers would naturally assume to be true (i.e. a "Spend $30, Save $5" offer with a disclaimer that the order must total $30 before tax)? Then the text at the bottom is probably a fine place for it. 

But if it's information that subscribers need before they can effectively use your special offer in their shopping, then the details belong somewhere more prominent.  Subscribers aren't keen on reading through the fine print at the bottom, and they'll feel betrayed if they click through to your site only to learn that the special offer isn't valid on what they want to buy. 

In addition, putting asterisks at the end of a special offer in your email body, directing subscribers to the legal text to learn more, eats away at subscribers' enthusiasm. When they see "Save 50% on Kitchenware!*" they're apt to assume that there is a "catch" that makes the deal less exciting, and they may not bother to find out what it is. In this J.Crew email, the offer is touted as applying to ALL women's outerwear, but when we follow the asterisk we see that several brands are excluded, making the original claim seem misleading.

Make your sales explicit (i.e. "Save up to 50% on select blenders and espresso machines!" rather than "Save 50% on kitchenware!") and you'll cut down on the length of your legal text and boost your brand's reputation.

Avoiding (or dealing with) long legal text:

Nothing is less visually appealing or effective than legal text that goes on forever. But what to do when you have lots of info to deliver?

Some brands find clever ways around long legal text. For example, REI simply states that "Exclusions apply" and includes a "Get details>" link (see the coupon on the right rail) so that the emails stay short without misleading anyone. Fare Compare keeps its legal text and contact info short, sweet and thoughtfully worked into its design in an appealing way.

If you can't avoid long legal copy, find a way to keep it organized and scannable. Compare the text at the bottom of this HP message to that at the bottom of this Janie and Jack message. While both include ill-advisedly long sections of text, Janie and Jack separates its text into sections with headlines, making it more manageable for readers who go there.

*In Conclusion...

OK, so we know that legal text can't always be "cool." But following some of the guidelines and examples above can go a long way in keeping your offers clear and your subscribers happy. What other ways have you found to handle your legal text? Please share!

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