Fine Print, Asterisks and Disclaimers

Simplifying one’s messaging is a virtue to be hailed. “Dumbing down” is an expression that has bad connotations. But “dumbing down” has helped many of us understand complex subjects.

Contracts that are short and to the point (“here’s what I’ll do,” “here’s what you’ll pay me,” “here are terms for ending the contract”) are better than those that run several pages and are filled with lawyer language. Hats off to all attorneys who earn their pay by authoring contracts that are clear and unambiguous.

However, there are times when the need for clarity requires that more information be shared. On these occasions, a simple message can become muddied if one is not careful. But in many cases, the brief statement “certain restrictions apply” is enough to communicate the fact that an advertised deal comes with a catch or two.

I don’t care to debate Obamacare, but administration personnel made a key error by telling the president it was okay for him to say, “If you like your current health care plan, you can keep it.” In an effort to simplify the message, the decision was made to omit any disclaimer.

The Affordable Care Act, like much legislation, is voluminous. Expecting the president to discuss the ACA’s minutia in speeches is not realistic. But he should’ve said, “certain restrictions apply,” regarding keeping one’s health insurance. By failing to do so, he has earned sharp criticism from all quarters of the political spectrum.

When something seems too good to be true, we instinctively know to look for the asterisk that will guide us to the fine print. When we hear “Lease a new Lexus for 199 a month,” most of us realize we’ll next hear “45-thousand due at signing.”

Disclaimers can be disappointing. They can take the wind out of sails. They can make the simple complex. But they can also prevent future damage.*

*Opinions expressed are my own and do not reflect those of my clients, family members, friends or neighbors.

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