Playing by the (advertising) rules

July 02, 2015

Laws, regulations, guidelines. We are surrounded by dos and don'ts every day in the world of advertising, but how is it possible to play by the rules when there is no advertising "rule book"?

One campaign our agency worked on was for a well-known New Zealand sports team. We created a TV commercial which featured a young boy dreaming of one day playing with the "big boys". We dressed him in an adult-size team supporter's jersey, shot the TVC, edited it and sent it off for formal approval.

Somewhere in the busyness of the planning and shoot no-one picked up that there was a liquor sponsor's logo on the sleeve of the jersey. New Zealand advertising regulations prohibit association between a liquor company (or a liquor product) and minors. We couldn't re-shoot the commercial, so let's just say many post-production (unchargeable) hours were consumed to edit out the logo from the shirt.

With a multitude of industry "thou must nots", how on earth is it possible to get through your agency career without making a mistake like we did in the TVC? The liklihood is that you will make mistakes, and one or two may even be whoppers. There are a few steps you can take to safeguard your campaigns (and yourself) as much as possible.

  • Get legal advice. If there is a possibility of substantial financial loss, physical harm or litigation, then you should talk with your agency's lawyer before proceeding with, or finalising, a campaign. The earlier you have this conversation the better.
  • Ask colleagues to check your work. The combined knowledge and experience of your agency team should be sufficient for "regular" campaigns. It's better that you ask questions than wish you had asked questions!
  • Ask a specialist. There will always be campaigns for which you have no specialist knowledge inside your agency (e.g. media strategy, TV production, or SEM). You could tap your network and make a quick phonecall. Even if you have to pay for advice, the reward of an error-free campaign will be worth it.
  • Research. Chances are that your great campaign idea is not as unique as you'd like to think (after all, "there is nothing new under the sun"). Other agencies will have tried similar channels, tactics, concepts, etc, so there's no sense in reinventing the wheel if you don't have to. By analysing other campaigns you could glean some useful information.
  • Pick up the phone. If you know of a company that has previously commissioned a campaign of similar complexity, why don't you call their Marketing Manager and ask if they have some advice for you? It's not like you are asking another agency to divulge their secrets, and you may be pleasantly surprised by the help you receive.
  • Check the rules. You should become familiar with the main rules and regulations that govern the types of campaigns you are involved with. For example, if your agency produces food packaging you should be aware of regulations surrounding food-safe inks and substrates. If you produce TV campaigns, you should be aware of broadcasting standards. Your client will consider it your responsibility - as the hired agency professional - to stay within the "rules" on their behalf. Remember that it will be your client who'll get slammed - through social media, wider media, the Advertising Standards Authority, or legal channels - if your agency slips up!

Protecting your campaigns should be relatively simple. If you use common sense and are mindful of the details, you are already half-way there. For the remaining 50%...good luck!


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