TUESDAY 26 APR 2016 12:00 PM

ON BAD TERMS

Complex small print terms and conditions disconnects the flow of brand language across all touch-points and is something that needs attention.

Reading page upon page of this text is a burden that consumers are faced with every time they purchase a product or service, and impacts how brands effectively communicate.

The Writer, a UK language consultancy, conducted research into the complexity of many T&Cs, with emphasis on the importance of this text in B2C communications.

Most of the language is hard to navigate, written poorly and confusing without proper structure. Companies say they are obliged to cover themselves, yet there is an unspoken agreement that most customers will not actually read the print, so insufficient time and effort is put in to ensure that it is of good quality. Professional writers are rarely hired and the legal team ends up writing something that is complex and disconnected from the brand experience.

Contrary to popular belief, the majority of consumers do commit some time to the reading of T&Cs; according to the study, the average time is four minutes and 42 seconds – a considerable amount of time considering that companies deem the text unimportant.

Harry Ashbridge, account manager at The Writer, says, “The big issue at the moment is that a lot of companies will spend money on design and tone of voice for their advertising campaigns because they think customers will pay more attention to that, but why should T&Cs be any less relevant?"

Additionally, in a recent initiative to respond to the T&Cs problem, the UK government held a public consultation earlier this month on how T&Cs could be more user-friendly, and proposes to fine companies for unfair terms. “Hopefully there will be an agreement on a minimum set of standards to include in T&Cs to avoid over-disclosure of information, as no one seems to have a clear idea of what must be included. The ideal T&Cs should be as brief as they can be, and written in a way that reflects the brand.” says Ashbridge.

Fortunately, some brands are moving towards clearer T&Cs. LinkedIn summarises what each section in their T&Cs is about for consumers to easily skim-read them, Facebook explains certain legal terms in more inventive ways for clearer understanding, and LV exchanges the terms and conditions phrase for ‘important things you need to know when using LV.com’. These firms’ T&Cs are examples of a step in the right direction for future changes to T&Cs and a better flow of brand language across all of its touch-points.