Friday, October 21, 2005

Caution: Contents May Be Hot

The following is a cleaned-up lift of a posting that I made in response to a query about a somewhat tongue-in-cheek moblile phone ad which shows people distracted by their televisions on their phones. As terrible things happen to the animated characters, a legal line appears at the bottom of the screen to warn you against walking into open elevator shafts and so on.
The original posting was on the Southern Ontario/Western New York Radio and Television Forum.

Bear in mind that we do live in ( or directly North of) an egregiously litigious society. It was a question about the necessity of warning lines on all kinds of ads, including car ads that don't seem to have any dangerous driving but still say, "Professional Driver. Closed Course."

The professional driver/closed course one seems a little foolish when the car is just cruising the curves of some idyllic wooded highway, but the legal departments of all of these advertisers are keen to head off any conceivable lawsuit plausible or otherwise.

Those soft palate scalding fried apple pies at McDonalds used to warn, "Caution: filling may be hot." I should hope so. That's why they called it a "Hot Apple Pie." What it should have said was something like, "Caution: contents may be alarmingly and unexpectedly hot as they were just boiling in oil moments ago, moron."

Now coffee cups everywhere bear a cautionary, "Contents may be hot" because one dizzy old broad didn't have the wit to use a friggin' cup holder. McDonalds only lost that one on a technicality.

In another example (possibly apocryphal, but I can't be bothered to verify it), small sample packets of a powdered "lemon" diswasher detergent were distributed door-to-door in (as I recall) New York. In one neighbourhood, comprised largely of immigrants for whom written English was an unfamiliar or unknown language, a number of people became ill after mixing the contents of the brightly coloured package with water and drinking it. Funny, it doesn't taste like the picture...

You wanna believe that the manufacturer and the marketing/promotions firm would want to have a clear and specific warning against consuming their product to back them up when the inevitable lawsuits started raining down.

The "South Park" cartoon has a rather hilarious parody of a disclaimer at the beginning of the show which serves the purpose for which it is intended on a legal and a comic level. How many shows on TV and radio have a disclaimer that "The opinions expressed in the following program are those of the participants etc. etc."

I am not sure, but that Jarome Iginla/Markus Naslund Nike ad must have some proscription against whacking hockey pucks around downtown or jumping off of buildings.

External use only - do not ingest.
Plastic bags are not a toy.
Choking hazard.

I think my favourite, though, was from an animated commercial for Barbie dolls in which the v/o said, "Barbie does not walk and talk on her own." Was Mattel really concerned that a horde of parents might descend on the Wal*Marts of the world demanding that magical robotic Barbie with the Artificial Intelligence chip that their kid saw on TV.

I wish we could rely on common sense, but I am sad to conclude that it probably safer to err on the side of caution.