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Andy Rooney and the “Fine” Art of Disclaimers

Fine Print (3/12/89) by Andy Rooney, 60 Minutes

The Fine Print, 3/12/89 by Andy Rooney (click for video)


Today’s post on disclaimers honors CBS essayist Andy Rooney who passed away on Saturday, November 5th. The best way to honor a teacher is to follow in their footsteps, practice, and polish the craft they embody.

The Fine Print, Rooney’s original essay on disclaimers in newspaper ads, aired on March 12, 1989.  Whether you think of “fine” as small print or classic words, you can see some of them in this still from the full 2-minute video (Please click; apologies for the workaround.)

The battle of headlines and fine print.

Whether you’re a marketer — or just someone who consumes the offers — you can’t get away from legalese. Your headline and offer, according to traditional push marketing, gets attention. That’s just how things were in 1989, especially when there was a big gap between brand and marketing.

Practicing the fine art, marketers shrink to 8-point sans-serif every possible disclaimer your legal department can provide to protect the interests of the enterprise. As marketers we’re pushed to simply get attention. The legal department took it all back in the disclaimers. It left little room for engagement.

The longest disclaimer I ever had to work with was over 280 words. Yes, you guessed it. It was for an insurance product and the attorney claimed that by separating this single sentence into its semi-coloned parts would change the meaning.

Hope Mr. Rooney would be proud of this observation and this post. Too bad he never did one on online, pop-up Terms of Agreement.

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