The Ts&Cs conundrum

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If you never read Terms and Conditions, you’re not alone – a recent Deloitte survey found that 91% of people consent to legal terms and services conditions without reading them, as the language is simply too complex and long-winded.

To add fuel to the fire, a new BBC study has found the majority of Terms and Conditions (Ts and Cs) on popular social media platforms like Facebook are written at university reading level – despite the fact that these apps are widely used by children as young as 13.

This is a perfect example of the Ts and Cs conundrum many companies currently face.

Let’s face it – Ts and Cs are never going to be light reading (or listening) – but they still need to be fit for purpose, and the principles for ensuring this remain the same whether we are talking about advertising on TV or radio, or contractual terms and conditions.

They need to be easy to understand

First, they should be written in language which the average customer can understand.

That means a platform which is frequently used by teenagers should not have Ts and Cs which can only be understood if you are educated to degree level.

Similarly, a radio ad which ends in over 20 seconds of financial jargon cannot possibly be absorbed by listeners in real-time (we have evidence to prove it – less than 4% of people recall figures from financial Ts and Cs just after hearing an ad).

Right information at the right time

Secondly, Ts and Cs should be timely. Giving too much information too soon and in the wrong format will fail.

Understanding the different stages of the consumer journey is vital as well as the strengths of the different media used to communicate with consumers. So for example a radio ad doesn’t do detail but it is great at signposting.

Take consumer credit offers as an example. Current regulation requires that standard information is included in any credit ad where the interest rate or cost of credit is mentioned. If you are a radio listener you will have heard those ads where you are told you can buy a particular car for £199 a month and then you hear a load of numbers at the end (Cash price blah, total payable blah, optional final payment blah, representative APR blah blah blah….and so on).

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not questioning the validity of the standard information. It’s an excellent initiative stemming from Brussels to ensure consumers can accurately compare different offers and understand the real cost implications. It’s just that advertising is not the stage where people are properly researching and comparing offers. And it certainly doesn’t work in a radio ad.

Ts and Cs are there for a good reason and should be treated as such

Finally, it’s vital that we remember why Ts and Cs are there in the first place – to protect the customer, and ensure they are aware of what they are signing up to.

It’s easy to get caught up as companies, organisations and regulators in thinking “we’ve done our best to get people to read Ts and Cs/listen to them/look for them” – but no matter what you might think should work, evidence of how consumers are responding to your Ts and Cs is paramount.

If the evidence points to the Ts and Cs not working (and, as mentioned earlier, there is a lot of proof that Ts and Cs on radio are at best ignored and at worst counterproductive) it’s no good putting our heads in the sand. Something has to change.

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