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Matt Hammerton


Matt Hammerton is managing director of Lava, an award-winning integrated marketing agency based in Lincoln. With 17 years’ PR and marketing experience gained at PR Week Top 150 consultancies and in-house with a commercial radio station group, Matt has devised and led successful campaigns for a myriad of clients.

The topic of freedom of speech has dominated the media recently, but what are the implications when it comes to marketing?

There are many regulations and several laws governing how companies and individuals can promote themselves.


With regards to advertising, the law says that you must give an accurate description of your product and that your advertising must be legal, decent, truthful, honest and socially responsible.

So, how do you ensure your advert is legal? First of all, don’t lie, miss out any vital information or be aggressive in your advertising.

You need to be crystal clear about pricing too. If you quote a price that excludes VAT, then this needs to be clear. You also need to make sure you can prove any claims you make with solid evidence.

If you say something is the best, then make sure you can qualify your claim. This is why you see all the small print at the bottom of adverts promoting beauty products. (You know, the bit where it says the product was tested on 20 ladies and 17 said it was amazing.)

Talking of beauty products, that industry is covered by specific set regulations as are adverts aimed at children or promoting food, alcohol, environmentally friendly products, medicines, political parties and tobacco.

If you’re unsure about what the law says then you should read the Committee of Advertising Practice code, which covers non-broadcast advertising (eg print, online), sales promotion and direct marketing. TV and radio adverts are governed by Ofcom’s broadcast rules.

If you are advertising to consumers then you should also read the consumer protection from unfair trading regulations.

Advertising to businesses? Don’t feature a competitors’ logo or trademark; don’t compare your product with a competing one that isn’t the same and don’t make any misleading comparisons between the two. You can find a wealth of information in within Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations

Data Protection

Don’t’ forget if you’re gathering, storing or using information about potential or current customers then there’s also data protection to consider and this applies not just to printed direct mail but also email marketing.

Direct Marketing

If you’re sending promotional faxes to individuals, then you’ll need their permission to do so before sending the fax. Using telemarketing, make sure the people you’re contacting haven’t registered with the Telephone Preference Service. If they have, then phoning them is illegal and could result in a £5,000 fine.

For traditional, posted, direct mail, make sure your mailing list doesn’t include people who’ve registered with the Mail Preference Service.

Email marketing and text messages

I suspect you get lots of unsolicited emails every day but you shouldn’t. Companies are only allowed to send marketing emails to people if they have permission to do so. If you’re using email marketing and have a bought a list from a data company, then check you have the right to use it for email marketing and make sure that in every email you send, you tell people who you are, that you’re selling and if you’re including a promotion, make sure the conditions are easily available.

PR Activity

Promoting yourself by sending out press releases? Then you still need to make sure you’re legal.

Avoid saying anything that’s misleading. Just like advertising, don’t say anything you cannot substantiate. Journalists won’t believe you’re the best without proof. That’s why many companies describe themselves as ‘the leading’, whatever that means.

You also need be aware of The Defamation Act 2013.

There are several definitions of defamation of character. One widely used definition is: “A statement which tends to lower the claimant in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally, and in particular cause him to be regarded with feeling of hatred, contempt, ridicule, fear or disesteem.”

The Act requires the claimant to show how exactly they have suffered serious harm or are likely to suffer serious harm as a result of the statement. Whether the statement will be considered libel or slander, depends on how the statement was made.

If it was said or is in a ‘transitory’ form then it will be considered slander, unless it was broadcast on television, radio or made in a public performance of a play.

A statement will be libellous, if it has been has been published; seen by a third party; and be easy for readers to identify the claimant even if it does not explicitly state his or her name.

Online And Social Media

Using Facebook and Twitter to promote your business? Blogging? Then remember, once you’ve published something online you, as the author are legally responsible for the content. That means you need to make sure you can substantiate your claims, that you’re not slandering someone or infringing copyright – do you have permission to use all of the images on your website?

And don’t forget the internet is global. Publishing on the worldwide web means the content can be challenged in other countries, and the laws governing defamation do vary from country to country.

Be Transparent

When it comes to Twitter and Facebook, transparency is essential. Don’t create content that appears to come from other people. Don’t involve celebrities or pay others to post nice things about you. What is and is not allowable in social media marketing is a grey area, so I’d recommend airing on the side of caution as anything promotional that’s posted on social media needs to comply with the Committee of Advertising Code.

As you can see there are many factors and areas of the law that cover marketing activity, hopefully this short overview will help you stay within the boundaries of what is acceptable. And, if you’re unsure, remember this simple saying – “if in doubt, leave it out’.

Matt Hammerton is managing director of Lava, an award-winning integrated marketing agency based in Lincoln. With 17 years’ PR and marketing experience gained at PR Week Top 150 consultancies and in-house with a commercial radio station group, Matt has devised and led successful campaigns for a myriad of clients.

It’s obvious: if you want people to react to your marketing activity, they are probably going to have to hear your message several times.

Hold on though. It’s not obvious to everyone. If it was, Lava would not meet disappointed online retailers who, despite launching their site two years ago, are dissatisfied with the number of sales they’ve made. We wouldn’t meet retailers whose product has not flown off the shelf, even though they issued a press release when the new must-have item first came into stock – and even took a single quarter page advert to give the campaign even more reach. We wouldn’t meet the event organiser who, with just two weeks to go, still has half of the seats available despite spending a few pounds on online advertising.

Perhaps one reason for people being disappointed is that they have unrealistic expectations about just how much competition there is for attention. Maybe it’s because brand owners and businesses don’t have a realistic view on how appealing their offer is to people. Or it could be that they just don’t know how to tell their story more than once or how to add extra chapters to their tale. Perceived budget limitations could also be holding them back.

It’s probably a combination of all of these factors that leads to many disappointments. Many of these disappointments could be avoided if people thought of their product, service or event as being a living thing: a newborn baby or a bulb that has just sprouted through the ground.

If either the child or the plant are going to reach maturity, then they are going to need food, care and attention. Left alone and both will not see a happy ending. So, how do you find a way of feeding your newborn, by repeating your message and telling your story in new ways?

Firstly, realise that what you are trying to build will take twice as long as you think it will, and will most likely grow at half the rate you think it will.

Secondly, don’t assume people are actually listening to you. Not everyone will be interested in you. In fact, most people are deaf to marketing. They don’t want to hear sales messages.

With a realistic view of how quickly you can grow, you’ll be more likely to commit to longer-term marketing activity – and when you realise that marketing is an ongoing process, you can then begin thinking about how you can repeat your message.

You will look at your business or organisation and make a note of its birthday, anniversaries and possible milestones – like reaching a certain number of product sales or employees, the number of customers you have now and when you might reach 100, 500, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000 live accounts. You will look at these milestones as opportunities to talk about your success.

You will also look outside of your world and take notice of what’s going on around you. You’ll look at television programmes, events, trends and fads and, while looking at these, will be thinking about how you can exploit them to develop another opportunity to talk about yourself.

You will be looking at your customers and taking note about how they are changing and whether they still need and want what you have to offer. Successful businesses and organisations, change in line with their customers’ needs. And, if you change, you have another thing to talk about.

And if there’s nothing to respond to or use as a springboard, then you need to think about what you can do proactively. What can you do that will make people take notice?

One thing is for sure, and although it contradicts what I said at the start about being repetitive, it’s true. If you keep banging on about the same things and telling the same story over and over again, people will think you’re boring and will stop listening.

The challenge is to find new ways of reminding people what you have to offer. If you don’t do this, then don’t be surprised if things don’t go as well as you expected. And if you find yourself running out of ideas, then there are lots of people, such as your customers, friends, family members and even agencies, like Lava, who will be happy to give you some feedback.

Matt Hammerton is managing director of Lava, an award-winning integrated marketing agency based in Lincoln. With 17 years’ PR and marketing experience gained at PR Week Top 150 consultancies and in-house with a commercial radio station group, Matt has devised and led successful campaigns for a myriad of clients.

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