8 Legal Tips for Green AdsAugust 28, 2013 By Rebecca Boucher and Brian Dunkiel
Treading into these waters calls for caution, especially now. The FTC's Green Guides are the go-to resource for environmental marketing. In some states they have the force of law. As they were revised less than a year ago (for the first time since 1998), they have not been widely tested or interpreted.
Your competitors might challenge your ads before the National Advertising Division (NAD), which reviews truth and accuracy in national advertising, or NAD could bring a case against you on its own.
Here are eight tips to avoid green ads that make creative swoon....but make legal groan.
1. Remember the Golden Rule!
- The truth and accuracy of your ad is judged by how the "reasonable consumer" perceives it.
- When a specific term is regulated, the reasonable consumer is usually still the underlying basis for the applicable standard.
- When a term is not regulated, the reasonable consumer is in charge.
2. Be Specific
- Simply claiming your product is "eco-friendly" or "green" is over. General is out.
- General claims are too vague to be meaningful to the reasonable consumer, so they're likely deceptive.
- Better to be specific about your product's environmentally friendly attributes.
3. Don't Be Coy
- Trying to work around Tip Two can get you into the same measure of trouble.
- A pic of your product surrounded by flowers, birds and honeybees (or similar scenes of environmental bliss) with the simple claim "Make a Change" is still no good.
- You don't get points for being oblique; implied claims are equally scrutinized.
- Don't overstate. Technically true claims can still be misleading. If the recycled content of your product has "jumped" from 2 percent to 3 percent, don't say, "50% more recycled content than before!" The reasonable consumer would be decidedly unimpressed.
- Beware of comparing your products to competitor's products, even if you don't name the competitor and/or just imply the comparison. Comparisons are possible but need a great deal of care to avoid deceiving our omnipresent (but not omniscient) reasonable consumer.