Disclaimers everywhere

Have you noticed that we now live in a world of legal disclaimers?

During a news program on television, a commercial came on touting the success of a firm that invests in mutual funds.

While spending a good part of the 30-second spot telling the viewing audience that over the past few years it had consistently outperformed “Lipper averages,” it then concluded with a quickly worded statement that past history was no guide, there were no guarantees in investments, and you were probably going to lose everything you had ever laid your hands on if you trusted this firm.

If past history is no guide, then why mention how the firm’s picks had fared versus the Lipper average? (By the way, the Lipper average is “the average level of performance for all mutual funds as reported by Lipper Inc.” — a subsidiary of Reuters.)

But the commercial reminded us of the dozens of pharmaceutical commercials that end with barely intelligible, hastily blurted warnings that the advertised pill may not only cure your rheumatoid arthritis, but may also cause incontinence, blindness, flatulence and death.

“Ask your doctor if Pylocash is right for you!”

Of course, every car ad quickly retreats from promises of miles per gallon (“results vary”), toys that come wrapped in plastic urge you not to let Junior play in the plastic (“may result in suffocation”), and even renting a golf cart comes with ominous warnings (“improper operation may result in injuries up to and including death”).

Makes you want to take your arthritis pill, jump into your gas-guzzling lemon, go to the course and commit golf cart assisted suicide, doesn’t it?

One rule of thumb we’ve adopted is that if the last seven seconds of a commercial are read so quickly you can barely understand them, you probably don’t want to hear them anyway.

Apparently, the new rule of such advertising is that you can promise the consumer anything in the first 23 seconds of the commercial as long as your lawyer can provide you with wording to retract all such claims in the last seven seconds. And, oh yeah, issue dire warnings in that same time span about all the havoc your product could possibly wreak.

It makes one pine for the good old days of “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should” and “Smoke mentholated Kools when you have a cold!” Yes, they were blatant lies but at least they weren’t lawyer-approved blatant lies.

(A version of this editorial has appeared previously in The Maui News.)

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.