annual Wacky Warning contest
Warning labels are everywhere. When you buy a ladder they are literally everywhere. We in the label business probably read more consumer warning labels than most people (as we pick at the edges to test the adhesive), but do others?
Once in a while along comes a label bearing a message that causes a double take. (Example: “Use like regular soap” on a bar of soap.) These end up in humorous e-mails, and if they’re from the United States they might end up in the annual Wacky Warning Label Contest sponsored by M-LAW, the Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch. This group describes itself as a non-partisan, grassroots organization that serves as a public watchdog over the state’s court system, educating people about the harmful effects on society of frivolous lawsuits.
Nobody argues against the importance of warnings, but sometimes they go overboard. M-LAW has been having fun with this, and the Wacky Warning Label Contest is now in its 10th year. This year’s winner, submitted by Bob Wilkinson of Northville, MI, is shown above. For his effort, Wilkinson won $500 and a copy of M-LAW’s new book, Remove Child Before Folding — The 101 Stupidest, Silliest and Wackiest Warning Labels Ever, newly published by Warner Books (Visit www.mlaw.org/wwl/).
The $250 second place award went to Rich Heitzig of Brooklyn Park, MN, for a label on a personal watercraft that warns: “Never use a lit match or open flame to check fuel level.”
Two labels tied for third place: One was a warning on a California Super Lotto ticket: “Do not iron.” The other was from a cell phone instruction book: “Don’t try to dry your phone in a microwave oven.” Honorable mention went to a warning on the cover of a Georgia Yellow Pages book: “Please do not use this directory while operationg a moving vehicle.”
“This annual contest, and the new book, Remove Child Before Folding, give us a chance to tell the inside story of how our nation’s legal system has become so erratic that these types of labels are necessary,” says Bob Dorigo Jones, president of M-LAW. “The personal injury lawyers who file the frivolous lawsuits that make outrageously obvious warning labels necessary might not be pleased that we reveal some of their secrets, but America deserves to know how the ‘sue first, ask questions later’ mentality is changing our culture and piling costs on consumers. The book will leave readers wondering whether to laugh or cry.”
Some labels don’t make it into the competition, such as those that warn users to keep the product away from children. “There are also labels that warn you against doing something that is already common sense. People might not know that eating too much toothpaste might not be a good thing.” Another example: A product designed to ease menstrual discomfort warns users to avoid it if they have an enlarged prostate gland. “We are more interested in a label on a fishing lure that says ‘Harmful if Swallowed’.”
“When we go to great effort to talk about this, we are not making fun of people who write and put them on the products. What we are doing is highlighting the erratic nature of a legal system that forces people to put these warnings on their products,” Dorigo Jones says. “There is a great debate whether personal injury lawyers are making America less safe. There is a theory that as warning labels become longer and longer and contain more warnings, people are less likely to read them.”