are there laws requiring "Don't try this at home"?

Two recent commercials make me wonder about this. Either law has truly gone over the edge, or there are some jokesters making commercials. Two examples:

  1. A Kia commercial in which (computer generated) cars appear to come up from underground and flip up to land on all four wheels. While variations on this image appear - several cars appearing from nowhere, flipping over and landing on all fours - there’s a tiny little legend that appears at the bottom of the screen that says, “Demonstration,” as if it’s the company’s obligation to let the public know that cars don’t normally come out of the ground.
  2. A deodorant commercial starring someone called Bear Gryllis, in which three actors appear to be trying to outrun hungry dogs or wolves while wearing something like meat clothing. In small white letters at the bottom of the screen a legend appears saying something like, “Do not attempt.” Again, it’s as if the company wants to avoid a lawsuit in the event that someone puts on a meat suit and tries to outrun a wolf.
    I’ve seen scenes in a car commercial where the cars are driving on two wheels on the edge of a building and a caution is shown on the screen, and there is no way on earth that someone could actually do that.
    Are these written legends and cautions for real? Are the laws so constituted that the companies have to actually announce that fantasy is, in fact, fantasy, and that people should not attempt everything they see in commercials? Or are some guys at the ad agencies just having a bit of fun?

Are there positive laws, as in statutes requiring such disclaimers? Almost certainly, no.

But this has nothing to do with ad agency guys having fun (okay, I’ve seen parody versions of the warnings, but in most cases, they are seriously intended).

Why? Because (a) people do very, very stupid things; (b) sometimes people do, or claim to do, such things based on something they saw in a staged/simulated/stunt portrayal on television; © in the U.S., the barriers to tort litigation are relatively low and cases are not always dismissed, and defendants generally bear there own litigation costs.

The anser I always give to the incredulous question “Surely no one can sue for that!” is, if they have $350 and can find the courthouse, yes, they can. Note that suing isn’t winning, but that defending a bogus case through even an early dismissal is not cheap.

So the disclaimers are incremental risk insurance – they don’t cost anything to add, and they could be useful evidence in, for instance, such an early dismissal motion. The court, if reasonably minded, could cite the disclaimers, as well as general common sense, as a clear grounds for why no one could have reasonably been induced, on whatever tort theory, to do some insanely stupid thing by an ad run by a deep-pocket defendant.

To take a more corporation-cynical view, the disclaimers are a way for companies to have their cake and eat it too, as to risky-but-not-totally-insane conduct. By showing you a fast car going really really fast on windy roads, then giving you a disclaimer about professional driver on a closed course, do not attempt, maybe they’re saying . . . hey, it’s none of our business what you do with our 450 HP dragster, but it’s on your head . . . .

Ok, I assume that’s the case, but what about disclaimers that assert that cars don’t actually come out of the ground, or that you shouldn’t try to drive around the edge of a building on the 50th floor with only two wheels on the ledge?

It’s just become standard practice for anything that is exaggerated as to the product’s capabilities or intended use. Is it reasonable that people would think a car could come out of the ground? No, probably not, but they could draw or purport to draw some other misleading conclusion about the car’s performance characteristics and complain that they were deceived. And some people will believe anything.

How many people believed Google’s “Motion” and “Teleporter” pranks on April 1? More than a few, I’d wager. When a company is actually using exaggeration to sell something, the legal instinct is to make sure that no one can claim the sale or particular use of the product was induced by any portion of the ad that is not literally true, hence, disclaimer is default.

It costs nothing to put in a stupid disclaimer. It costs something to defend a nuisance suit. That’s a pretty simple calculation.

Back in the 1980s there was a TV show called That’s Incredible! (note exclamation point) that featured everything from inspirational stories about people overcoming the odds to amazing stunts. There were enough kids around who decided they could imitate trained stunt performers with thousands of dollars of special equipment that the show soon started using “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME!” as a tagline for almost every segment.

And from an even earlier time, here’s one person’s reminiscences about trying to fly like Superman.

As has been mentioned it is there as a defense against lawsuits.

Nevermind if you think no one could be sued for doing stupid shit…happens often enough. It costs nothing to provide the warning which may protect you from a lawsuit.

As an example I remember an old story (dating myself and no cite…before 'puters) a public pool in my area was closed for the winter. The pool had fences (6 foot) and was drained but in the spring snow melt partially filled it.

Some kids jumped the fence, two fell in and drowned (mud from runoff made it slick and there was enough water to drown in from runoff).

Despite a fence and all the stupidity the parents successfully sued the park district. No signs apparently saying, “Don’t be a Moron!”

Ok…I made the last bit up and may have some details wrong but the gist of it is right.

An outrageous lawsuit filed because of a jet shown in a commercial with a large number of Pepsi Points attached.

Even though the court ruled in favor of Pepsico, they could have avoided dealing with the lawsuit just by putting a Not a valid prize, Not available for Purchase type of disclaimer into the commercial.

Also, those little stickers in hotel rooms that illustrate not to use the fire sprinklers to hang garments on. The typical person does not look at a fire sprinkler as a coatrack, but as Huerta88 stated, people do dumb things. America is Sue-Happy.


For some of them, the notice itself injects additional humor into the act.

One that got me was a recent car commercial that was using an evolutionary theme. They started out following a line of footprints, then hoofprints, then a wagon trail, then a railroad, then tiretracks, then they panned up to the cars that they were selling. And there was a little standard disclaimer saying “professional drivers, closed track, don’t try this at home, blah blah blah.”

And I was thinking, why couldn’t I do this at home? The cars aren’t doing any stunts - they’re just driving straight on a level surface.

Sounds to me like the manufacturer is discouraging reasonable driving. Must be ok to get in their car and go nuts!