Corporate Content Marketers Frustrated with Legal Blockades

A recent article in NZ Entrepreneur highlights the legal constraints in large Australasian multinationals making things very difficult for their content marketers. Battles cries of “bottlenecks, or drastically altered pieces of content and missed deadlines” are being blamed on legal departments, impacting the ability of brands to engage their customers.
Savvy marketers recognise that customers hate ads – but they love to shop – so giving them information that helps them make better decisions is a sound marketing tactic. In addition, with more Internet users using ad blocking software the impact of ad marketing is declining markedly in response rates. This is also hurting advertising platforms and agencies. Apple’s new iOS operating system also supports ad blocking for mobiles. iOS ad blocking apps.

This is driving more and more corporate marketers to content marketing – becoming publishers, journalists, informers, educators, motivators and decision supporters. That makes well executed content marketing a powerful strategy for building brand profile and trust. Content marketing has been voted as the most important digital marketing trend three years in a row.

Have legal departments recognised this change?

Content marketing indirectly promotes brands as well as goods and services. As such, it falls within the domain of laws such as the Fair Trading Act 1986, and possibly, Advertising Codes of Practice. Add to that issues like copyright law and even the Harmful Digital Communications Bills and one can see the concern mounting in legal hallways.

Content marketing needs to avoid making bold claims without consideration to traditional marketing compliance. However, good content marketers know that referring directly to claims about products and services actually works against the educational and entertainment goals of content marketing. In addition, they declare conflicts of interest, and value transparency – making clear what is fact and what is comment.

So on one hand we have marketers wanting a free hand in publishing copy, and on the other we have legal teams wanting to protect the company.

Its up to each department to ‘educate’ the other – so everyone knows exactly which rules apply when, and where they apply. With such a diverse range of content available to marketers, there needs to be an easier way than submitting every piece for approval. I tend to favour providing marketers with clear parameters and pre-permission envelopes – stay within the lines and you are cleared to publish. Go outside, and it needs to be submitted for approval. It’s up to legal to draw those lines, and for marketers to honour them. Only through mutual trust can the blocks be overcome.

Its mainly when editorial becomes advertorial that problems arise – so there is a major defining line right there. No product claims – no problem. Go to press.
Native advertising? The traditional rules still apply.

When producing a broad range of content types, from advertisements, movies, opinion posts, blogs, advertorials and even ‘how to videos’ the subtle application of different laws can become murky.

With the aim of content marketing to attract, acquire, and engage a specific audience towards taking a desired action, content pieces must meet both value and relevancy goals. Most advertisements, and even many advertorials do not fit within the definition of content marketing. Good content marketing should be more editorial in nature – with either an education or entertainment spin. The difficulty lies in the definitions adopted by regulating bodies such as the Advertising Standards Authority – which adopts a ‘wide net’ approach, even capturing content that ‘advocates ideas or beliefs’. However, if content marketers share their ideas and beliefs with integrity and label advertorials for exactly what they are, this lays a sound foundation to avoiding legal issues. Declare any conflict of interest, be transparent and make ‘accuracy’ an overarching principle.

Others who remain stuck in the grey zone may feel more comfortable engaging professional writers, and journalists, who are more in touch with media laws. Don’t expect one professional to cover all options. Leave the commercial advertising with the ad agencies, the brand with PR companies, and bring in professional content marketers to bridge the gap.


To mark a roadmap forward:

  • Clearly define what is, and what is not content marketing – distinguished from advertisements, advertorials and PR pieces.
  • Define a content strategy for the various goals – customer engagement, brand development etc and know how-to advice, thought leadership and opinion pieces fit into that strategy.
  • Establish clear legal compliance parameters, with clear checklists to help define where different content pieces fit within that envelope.
  • Create a two-way communication channel between legal and marketing to establish ‘pre-authorised’ release and when content needs a closer look.
  • Consider using disclaimers on pieces that fall into grey areas as defined by regulatory bodies.

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