The art of making dull copy slightly less dull

Terms and conditions are boring, but they still need a voice. Frame them with copy that sounds human to keep your brand consistent.

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Dull, paired with boring. Image credit: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-hUil14-454c/UDO6KK9sivI/AAAAAAAABeM/fc8MjQdrxpM/s1600/IMG_0037.jpg

Lawyers tell us that terms and conditions are important. So why do we all find them boring? Frankly, it's because they are. But are T&Cs beyond help? Not quite. While the legal department will get twitchy if you start rewriting the whole page, you can add some tone of voice to the intro — just to let your readers know that a human did actually look at the copy, once.

Frame the terms and conditions with your tone of voice

You don’t need to labour the point here. A succinct introduction to your T&Cs can go a long way to getting the tone right. We've found some examples, and would have screengrabbed them for you, but many of the terms and conditions explicitly forbid this. Ooops. Quotes will have to do. Sorry that it looks a bit, well, boring.

The AA have hit a good balance between necessary formality and a nod to knowingness:

The links below will tell you all you need to know about using this website. There are legal sections, contact details and information about things that can change. Some areas need a little more explanation than others, but we've tried to keep it as short and simple as possible.

It’s clear and to the point, with some reassurance that they've tried to cut things down.

Virgin Media have a bolder tone of voice, and have called their section ‘Legal stuff’ accordingly:

The legal stuff
Looking for our terms and conditions? Well you've come to the right place. We've set it all in black and white.

They’ve covered their SEO too, by having ‘terms and conditions’ in the first line, despite changing the headers to the less searchable, more approachable variation.

Domino’s go one step further, calling their T&Cs ‘Boring legal stuff’. This is a step closer to the tone of a grumpy teenager – which is probably a big slice (geddit?) of their target market, so we’ll forgive them. The page is a bleak expanse of text and white background, with the only sign of navigation a good scroll away down the page – so it could benefit from a little more care and attention.

Let’s compare apples to oranges, just because we can. In this case, it’s pizzas and banks. Here are the opening words for the Lloyds Bank T&Cs:

THIS WEBSITE IS AN OFFICIAL WEBSITE OF Lloyds Bank plc (“we” or “us”).
YOU SHOULD READ THESE TERMS AND CONDITIONS (“TERMS”) CAREFULLY BEFORE USING THIS WEBSITE. USING THE WEBSITE INDICATES THAT YOU ACCEPT THESE TERMS REGARDLESS OF WHETHER OR NOT YOU CHOOSE TO REGISTER WITH US. IF YOU DO NOT ACCEPT THESE TERMS, DO NOT USE THE WEBSITE.

Firstly, ALL CAPS is never a good idea for long copy, unless you’re furious and hacking away at a news website in the below-the-line comments. ALL CAPS MEANS YOU’RE SHOUTING. Presumably they’re being used for emphasis. However, long ALL CAPS copy is more difficult to read than regular mixed case copy. So we’d back off on that one.

Moving swiftly on to quieter and comfier realms, Sofa.com have struck a fine balance between the legal and human elements. Here are their T&Cs –

boring but important
Terms & Conditions
Yes – this is the small print – sorry. That said we are a human company and in the event of any dispute our first desire is to resolve all matters to the satisfaction of all parties, and to that end we will endeavour not to hide behind all this “legalese”.

Sure, it could do with a little work. But it instantly sets up a relationship with the reader that’s consistent with the rest of their brand. They’ve put the emphasis on being human, and they've even used a big picture. Full marks.

Conclusions

What can we take from all this? For a start, it doesn’t take much to give formal legal text a touch of humanity. Let your readers know what’s coming, and that you know it’s going to be boring. Get your tone of voice into some of the copy, and even the thickest, most convoluted legal copy will benefit.

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