Saturday, February 12, 2011

Legal Liabilities of Social Media Advertising Campaigns

There are many legal liability issues inherent with social media advertising campaigns. Some legal issues to be aware of include: copyright and trademark issues, privacy, FTC advertising guidelines and full disclosure violations, etc...

I recently attended a conference and one of the panels consisted of a group of marketing professionals. The marketers wanted to create an advertising campaign for a flat screen television company. The hypothetical promotion would encourage consumers to videotape themselves smashing their old tube television sets and then upload the video to a website. The flat screen television company would reward those who uploaded their television smashing videos with a new flat screen television. In addition, the consumer who had the "coolest" video would win $100,000.

At first glance, this hypothetical sounds like it would be a successful promotion. Who wouldn't want to watch a bunch of people smashing their television sets? This advertising campaign sounds like it may be inspired by a Gallagher (go to 7:00 in the clip) comedy routine and/or the Jackass television series/movie franchise.

Watching Gallagher smash watermelons and/or other fruits is still extremely funny. However, Gallagher is a "professional watermelon smasher" and comic and generally flying watermelon will not cause permanent damage to an audience member. In addition, audience members may be deemed to have assumed the risk of attending his show if they are hit with some flying watermelon or other related flying fruit. This type of scenario may be analogous to attending a baseball game and being hit with a foul ball.

Jackass was a television series (and later a movie franchise) on MTV that contained actors who performed interesting stunts. To reduce the possibility of lawsuits, MTV had disclaimers and warnings listed and mentioned before, during, and after each show. In addition, the television series did not encourage its viewers to perform the activities that were depicted.

In contrast to both Gallagher and Jackass, this hypothetical television advertising campaign encourages the destruction of a piece of electronic equipment that may contain dangerous chemicals and/or materials by consumers. This type of encouraged behavior may hurt consumers and/or others who are exposed to the encouraged activities.

Even though a company may put in place a waiver and/or other means to try limit their liability and/or to try to ensure that participants assume all risks associated with the advertising campaign, a lawyer for an injured participant may still file a lawsuit against the company and utilize a creative theory of liability. Therefore, before a company decides to do an advertising campaign with a social media component it should ask its legal department and/or outside legal counsel to fully review the proposal to ensure that it doesn't create any unforeseen potential legal liabilities.

To learn more about about the risks and unforeseen legal liabilities of your social media advertising campaigns you may contact me at

Copyright 2011 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.