We all know that Oxford Dictionaries named Selfie as the word of the year in 2013. If someone were to name a business word of the year I think the choice would be unanimous: Compliance. I've been in this business now for 20 years and the biggest change I've seen in all that time is the paranoia and fear that has germinated in Direct Response advertisers over the past five years. David Ogilvy, long considered the "Father of Advertising", once wrote that he was amazed at how little changes there are in this business. The same formulas that worked in the 60's still work today. People respond to the same triggers. Sure, things may deviate slightly; everything is a derivative of something else. Most of what has changed involves technology and how consumers see our commercials. In creating them, I still follow most of the same principles that I learned when I got into the business in 1994. There is one gigantic exception, however, and that is compliance. When I write and produce commercials/infomercials, being compliant is now always one of my primary objectives. The days of the wild frontier where you can say or claim almost anything and not get called on it are over, kiss them goodbye along with $2.00 a gallon gas prices! If you're in business, any business, this is not the time to throw caution to the winds and get aggressive in your sales techniques.
Suggestions to Avoid Regulator Scrutiny
With the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), we in the advertising community now have two governing bodies looking over our shoulder, and it appears they are competing with one another to see who can prosecute the most companies and levy the largest fines. What can you do to avoid getting an investigation notice in the mail or, even worse, a cease and desist? Pray. Seriously, that may be the best strategy. Pray but don't prey! Just kidding, of course. At National Media Connection, before any commercial/infomercial goes to market, there is always an official "review" to make sure that a) there are no claims that can't easily be substantiated and b) all of our disclaimers are in place and easily clear and legible. I say "easily substantiated" because if it's going to take an inordinate amount of work documenting your claim, the lift in response may not be worth including it in your commercial. You may also want to get to know attorneys in your area who are familiar with your business and who bill at a reasonable rate. Good or bad, finding an attorney in this country should never be a problem, that much is certain. Other countries laugh at America and refer to us as the "Land of Lawyers". I once read that we have 10 lawyers for every engineer and it's a statistic that I don't doubt. When writing a commercial or any form of ad, avoid making any specific claims like "we will" or "you will" and try to stick with "we may" and "you may". It sounds minor but the implications are major. Lastly, what I always say is "if in doubt take it out!" In this environment, it's simply not worth the risk to put something out there that could put you on a regulator's radar. The pain will far exceed the reward.
Merriam-Webster's word of the year for 2013 was "Science". It's nice to see that they kept it old school. Let's hope that the tightening regulations won't clip the sweet science of Direct Response Marketing!