NHPTV "Underwriting" Message (Or Commercial?)

Eli Polonsky elipolo@earthlink.net
Tue Jan 18 17:04:17 EST 2005

On 1/16/05 2:31 PM, "Laurence Glavin" <lglavin@lycos.com> wrote:

> ... the "underwriting" message before the show for Northeast
> Credit Union seemed awfully long and detailed for a public broadcasting
> show.  So today (09/16) I taped the intro to "W$W w F" and then
> copied down the text of what the channel  11 announcer said.
> First of all, the message was slightlly longer than 20 seconds
> total, and contained three visuals, while the following message
> was aired:
> "Let Northeast be your financial superhero, bringing you not only
> the traditional services of a financial institution, but
> products like OUR quick-close home equity and GenGold checking.
> Chances are you're eligible to be a member of Northeast.
> Information is available at 1-888-436-1847."

As far as I know, the only thing questionable about this may be
the "Let Northeast be..." part, which could be constituted as a
"call to action". 

Non-commercial underwriting announcements can not actively urge
someone to patronize, purchase, or attend anything for profit.
They can objectively describe the service, item, or event, but
not urge someone to take action.

I think that describing their services offered, even with their
"name branding" of those services, is allowed as long as they
don't include any qualifying value judgments of those services.
In other words, they can't say things like "Our Quick-Close is
the best home equity", or "Our GenGold is the greatest checking".
Qualifiers and judgments of quality are not allowed.

Claiming that they're part of being your alleged "financial
superhero" is, I think, possibly vague enough and distanced
enough from the descriptions of the services themselves to
perhaps be legally meaningless in this context.

Maybe that also lets the "Let Northeast be..." part off the hook,
since "Let Northeast be your financial superhero" is a "call to
action", but being "your financial superhero" doesn't actually
specify anything really tangible.

"Chances are you're eligible to be a member..." is still not
worded as a direct "call to action" urging someone to become one.

It's OK to give phone numbers and websites as long as there is no
"call to action". In other words, they can say "more information
is available at..." but they can't say "for more information,
call... (or visit...)". Urging someone to take action to call a
number or visit a website is not legal.

> This seemed rather lengthy and detailed for an underwriting
> message, and the visuals (in slide format rather than
> moving video) included more advertsing-style info like
> the web address, and a youngster in a superhero outfit
> reinforcing the "superhero" slogan for the firm.
> ...this seemed to me to have all the earmarks of a traditional
> commercial...from this description, do you think it
> crossed over the line?

I may not be correct because I'm more familiar with these
regulations regarding radio than for television, but as far as
I know, I don't think there are any limitations on styles and
content of graphics, as long as there are no direct violations
contained in those graphics of the rules regarding qualifying
judgments and calls to action.

Flashing the web address is OK as long as it doesn't say
"visit..." before it, and a kid in a superhero outfit is most
likely too vague to be challenged as a qualifying judgment of
any specific services offered.

Of course, these things often tend to walk the line as closely
as possible...

Eli Polonsky

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