Top 3 Advertising and Marketing Watchouts for Small Businesses

August 24, 2015

Advertising can be one of the most fun parts of business.  It's the perfect opportunity to blend creativity with your business acumen.  And, After all, who doesn't want to see their company name on TV, hear it on the radio or see it in print? And if you don’t have the budget for any of those media, advertising online is easier and cheaper than ever, and can expose your business to a whole new world of potential customers.

But with that exposure comes risk. Whether you’re incorporating video into a small business marketing plan or just firing up your twitter account,  you need to take care that their advertising and marketing efforts don’t open them up to lawsuits.  Here are the top 3 things you need to watch out for when working on your marketing and advertising.

1. Be Cautious about Copyright infringement
Copyright infringement occurs when someone uses the works protected by copyright law without permission. Suppose you find a photograph on Google images or another image site and use it to promote your business on Facebook. If that  photograph is copyrighted, you could be sued for infringement. Even if you prevail at a trial, you will incur costs to defend yourself, and your business may suffer from damage to its reputation.

2. Toe the Line when it Comes to Trademarks
Trademark infringement is the unauthorized use of a trademark or service mark on competing or related goods and services. You don’t need to try to knock off Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ slogan or McDonald’s golden arches to be at risk. If your logo or tagline is similar enough to another to cause confusion in the mind of the consumer, you can be sued. If you happen to be in the same industry as the company that’s suing you, there’s even more danger that you may have to pay a settlement or get slapped with a judgement.

3. Censor your Social Media
Social media can be fun and games until you’re accused of libel. Slander (spoken statements that defame) and libel (written statements that defame) have been around since the dawn of litigation, but social media makes it much easier to make your statements public.  Statements must be public to be considered slander  or libel, and they must also be false and cause harm. If you are talking about a competitor on social media, be extra careful that what you’re saying is truthful, and not damaging.

Even if you aren't aware that your ad, slogan or tweet infringes on someone else’s rights, you can still be sued.  Be sure to check in with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website for more resources on infringement. Also, realize that among the best protections is a general liability insurance policy that can cover claims of libel or slander, and copyright or trademark infringement. Look for a comprehensive policy that includes coverage for defense costs and loss of business income.