Build Your Brand, Legally Speaking

Have you ever used your legal disclaimer to build your brand?

The first Web sites, appearing around 1994, had no privacy statements at all. There were no disclaimers from the legal department stating the company wasn’t responsible for anything, even things you thought they were responsible for. There were no “terms of use” sections outlining the legal implications of using the site, either. There was simply… a site.

Legalese fast became a necessity for most commercial Web sites. If Web sites and the companies behind them are different, why should all the legal statements read the same? I’m tempted to believe most companies cut and paste those boilerplate legal statements to cut down their workload.

Herein lies an obvious branding opportunity.

I once had to sign a contract before hiring an advertising company. In the final selection round, I needed to choose between two agencies. To be frank, both were perfectly suited for the assignment. The chemistry and skill sets of each were first rate. The final, determining factor was based on each agency’s contract.

The first company’s contract consisted of about a ton of paper. The 52-page tome bore text smaller than six points. It was packed with words almost unrecognizable to me. Obviously the company had decided to cover all the bases with its contract. And I mean everything.

I was pleasantly surprised to receive the other agency’s people-friendly contract. The language was easy to understand. The legalese was prefaced by “and now to the boring stuff which, of course, we’ve printed in the smallest type to make sure you can’t read it all.” The copy even offered subtle and funny comments about lawyers and the need for such a document. All in all, the contract communicated the fact that its authors and the people it represented were human and full of good humor. Interestingly, the contract managed to cover all its material in just 15 pages. It was even fun to read!

Which agency do you think I decided to go with?

Legal stuff, privacy warnings, disclaimers, and all the other necessary accouterments for today’s Web site are here to stay, no matter how much we prefer to avoid them. They don’t have to be written in a formal legal voice, as if the documents were only going to be read by lawyers. Regardless of whether we’re private consumers or businesspeople, we all like to be treated as human beings. If you can convert your legal documents into easy, fun-to-read pieces, you’ll break down a barrier between you and prospective business that 99.9 percent of your competitors won’t have cracked. The achievement makes your brand more human. It enhances mutual understanding and even empathy between your brand and its customers. Isn’t that the essence of good branding?

Would you hire a lawyer to craft your branding campaign? Unlikely. Why allow an attorney to control your brand’s all-important tone of voice? Let your brand speak. You can achieve the same legal protection and, at the same time, build that brand.