How do you advertise in heavily regulated sectors? Of course self-regulation and co-regulation exists in the shape of the Advertising Standards Authority Certain sectors, however, such as the tobacco and alcohol industries, various aspects of financial services, gambling, online dating, healthcare, charities and transport are obligated to follow stricter rules and regulations.
What, then, are the key strategies brands in these sectors should employ to ensure they stay both ahead of the competitive curve and on the right side of the law?
Understanding regulated industries and the challenges for businesses
The simplest definition of a regulated industry is one that is subject to sector-specific government rules. Regardless of the precise motivations for regulations, specialist bodies are generally in charge of the rules pertaining to each sector. For example the Financial Conduct Authority oversees regulation in the financial industry, while the Portman Group oversees the alcohol sector. When it comes to marketing and advertising, these are the bodies that need to be satisfied.
Typical rules include the restriction or complete prohibition of certain advertising channels - think about restrictions on the times of day that sugary food can be advertised on TV, or the total prohibition of cigarettes and e-cigarettes on television advertising - and requirements for certain information or warnings to be included in all adverts. Keywords may be restricted or banned in search marketing campaigns, and certain claims may not be allowed.
If you’re a brand operating in a regulated industry facing those challenges and want to deliver the best possible return on your marketing and advertising spend, what can you do? Here are five key strategies to bear in mind:
Education and awareness of the law
Remember, education and awareness isn’t just an internal matter – it also applies to every external agency and freelancer you use to assist with your marketing and advertising. If they don’t have a textbook knowledge of the frameworks you need to operate within, there’s a risk of you shelling out for unusable work. They have a responsibility to educate themselves, but you have a responsibility to check that knowledge, to ask for appropriate points of reference and, where relevant, examples of previous work.
Robust planning processes
Think about the workflows that sit behind every marketing and advertising project. Careful project management and a comprehensive series of checks and sign-off procedures are more important in regulated industries than any others. There should never be occasions where a single stakeholder is able to sign off on a piece of creative, or a marketing campaign approved without agreement from lawyers and other regulatory experts. A consistent, well-thought out approach will streamline the process through your legal channels and avoid your campaign start dates and ROI being delayed.
Storytelling is, of course, a crucial element of marketing and advertising in all industries. However, when you are operating in a world of tight rules and restrictions, it is even more important to ensure that a slick and consistent story is told across all of your marketing channels. This enables each separate marketing channel to draw on the success of others, helping to mitigate the impact of restrictions in individual channels.
Artful SEO and PPC
Keyword restrictions, whether in general online content as part of an organic search strategy, or in pay-per-click advertising, can be one of the trickiest aspects of marketing and advertising for regulated brands to navigate. It may be that certain keywords are banned outright, making it impossible for you to bid for certain terms in Google AdWords. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of ways of making search marketing work for you. Tactics such as cleaning up the links on your website, tagging all visual content, and, of course, identifying and replicating the existing high-performing keywords on your site are all helpful.
Creating optimised content related to consumers’ questions can also be beneficial, helping brands capitalise on the intrigue that consumers may have on topics related to their products (e.g. health concerns) and take control of the narrative by providing an affirmative answer.
Handling public criticism
Obviously the hope is that your business will never face public criticism but for this to be an assumption is a risky strategy. Preparing a crisis communications strategy for dealing with potential marketing emergencies, as well as a softer strategy for responding to lower level public criticism, is a sensible rule of thumb for all regulated businesses. While a precise approach will, of course, be built on your own brand personality and values, principles of clarity and integrity apply to all brands.
Paul Bullock is digital marketing manager at Fast Web Media