Underwriting Compliance Guide: 3. Identification vs. promotion

3.      Identification vs. promotion

            a.         Starting with a “business card”/avoid “menu” listing

Underwriting acknowledgement announcements can identify the business but they cannot promote the business.  When developing the announcement, start with the basic information that would normally appear on a business card such as the entity’s name, address, telephone number and website URL.  From there, you can slowly add basic descriptive information such as the type of business they are and a very short (no more than 3) listing of product lines, services, etc.

NO

OK

We would like to thank XYZ Plumbing for supporting programming on WXXX-LP.  They are located at 123 Main St. and carry plumbing products such as sinks, toilets, bathtubs, shower fixtures, copper piping, valves for residential and commercial.  Their phone number is 555-1404.  Their website is X YZ plumbing, dot com.

Programming on WXXX-LP is made possible through support by XYZ Plumbing, a plumbing supply store located at 123 Main St.  They carry products from Kohler and American Standard.  Their phone number is 555-1404.  Their website is X Y Z plumbing, dot com.

            b.         Calls to action

Underwriting announcements cannot contain any language to encourage the listener to take a specific action to patronize the underwriter.  Examples of the “deadly verbs” that must be avoided in underwriting copy:

  • Check out Joe’s Crab Shack.”
  • “To learn more, visit their shop at 202 Poplar Drive.”
  • “For more information, call 555-4040.”
  • Visit their website at i love crabs dot com.”
  • Take the 202 to Exit 7 then turn right to find them.”

            This list is NOT all-inclusive.  The use of any verbs that encourage listener action must be avoided!

            c.         Enticement/planting a seed

Underwriting announcements can’t include any “suggestions” that, while not calls to action, may encourage a listener to patronize a business.  This is the type of an advertising message where you “plant a seed” in the mind of the listener and make them think about something. Here are some examples of prohibited enticement statements:

  • “Have you been thinking of buying a new car?”
  • “Are you hungry?”
  • “I know what you are thinking right now, I want a steak!”
  • “Your retirement is something that you should be thinking about right now.”
  • “Winter is coming. Snow will be here soon. But your rain gutters are full of leaves.”
  • “What are you doing Thursday night?”
  • “If you are looking for...”

            d.         Qualitative, quantitative and comparative statements

Remember, you are identifying the business as an underwriter of the station and not promoting them.  Making qualitative statements about a business does cross the line into promotion. 

Qualitative statements indicate how good a business is and comparative statements indicate how good a business is compared with another.

Quantitative statements deal with quantity (numbers) this includes indicators of the strength of the business.

Comparative statements may use a mix of qualitative and quantitative statements in order to express why the underwriter is better than similar business.

Awards, recognitions and certifications must be avoided.

Some examples of prohibited qualitative, quantitative and comparative statements include:

  • The best crabs on the eastern shore of Maryland.
  • QRS Tires has the widest selection of valve stems in Podunk.
  • Their service technicians are the most experienced and best in the business.
  • They are the Valley’s oldest feed store.
  • Their crafters have more than 100 years of experience combined.
  • They have the most stores in Denver.
  • Now serving 31 different flavors of ice cream.
  • They are known for the lowest prices on the newest items.
  • Their mechanics are ASE Certified and are factory trained.
  • Winner of the Best Pizza in Phoenix in the 2019 New Times Best of Phoenix.
  • Try the rest, now try the best.  (This is also a call to action)

Federally required disclosure statements (such as “Member FDIC”) are permitted.

            e.         Pricing, discounts and interest rates

Never include a price, the amount of a discount or the amount of an interest rate in underwriting copy.  Never suggest the existence of a discount.  Keep in mind that “free” is also considered a price.  Trades not involving cash can also be considered prohibited.  Here are some examples of prohibited copy:

  • You can always count on a discount price.
  • Home of the $10 prime rib.
  • Those with an iPhone 7 can trade up to a new iPhone 10.
  • Their new money market account has a 2% annual percentage yield.
  • 40% all weekend long.
  • Mid-day bowling for $4 per hour.
  • Today, they are selling widgets for $20.

            f.          Slogans

Slogans are phrases that are distinctive to describe the business.  Famous slogans are like Coca Cola’s “It’s the real thing” or Subway’s “Eat Fresh”.  Well known slogans that were established long before the airing of the announcements may be acceptable in some cases.  The compliance director or station management should review all requests to use such slogans or stations can establish a policy of not allowing these slogans.  This is a grey area for stations and stations planning to write these announcements should do so under the advice of an attorney who specializes in noncommercial compliance.

            g.         Affinity/membership cards

Affinity cards or membership cards are a great tool for marketing a noncommercial station.  They can be used to recognize a listener’s loyalty, especially if that listener donates to the station.  The main benefit from these cards is a discount or other recognition at local businesses that also support the station.  Stations benefit because they can use the data to get a list of listeners, businesses benefit because they can track customers who also listen to the radio station that they underwrite and listeners benefit by getting both discounts at businesses and a tangible item that recognizes their loyalty to the radio station.

Stations can run announcements to advise of the availability of cards.  This is a part of normal station fundraising.  When mentioning the availability of cards, you should never mention the names of the businesses that will accept the card for discounts.  Instead you should encourage that listeners obtain the card to show their support of the station and for more information about the card, they can visit your station’s website.  Since you are promoting your own station, you can use calls to action but only to your station’s resources, not to your underwriters

For underwriter announcements, caution should be given when writing copy when the underwriter participates in the membership card program.  Copy should never give a specific offer to listeners (“15% off your entire check if you have a WXYZ Card.”).  Even the suggestion of a discount without giving specifics can be dangerous ground (“They have a special offer for WXYZ Card holders.”).  It would be safer to only recognize that they participate in the program but do so in a manner that does not convey or suggest a benefit (“We would like to thank the following WXYZ Card supporter of community radio...”). 

If you run imaging during station promotions that give very basic information on the card and then only suggest that an underwriter participates but you do not explain how, the listener may be able to piece that together.  It is important to remember that your website is well outside the jurisdiction of the FCC.  Get listeners to the station website and then you can go from there.

            h.         Don’t try to sound like NPR/PBS

Sometimes when you listen to an NPR or PBS station, you may hear some very well written underwriting acknowledgement announcements that almost sound like commercials.  Its important to remember that these stations have at their disposal, many resources including attorneys and compliance people who carefully review these announcements before they go on the air.  Likewise, that crackerjack team of attorneys are available to defend the station if something is not agreeable.  Stations should avoid the “NPR Sound” unless they have they have a good compliance attorney on retainer.

            i.          Old time radio commercials

Some noncommercial radio stations carry old time radio (OTR) programs for historical value.  The commercials are just as historical as the shows themselves.  The FCC has determined in the past that it is OK to include most OTR commercials when broadcasting such an old show.  The restriction on commercials relates to the fact that a broadcast station receives consideration in exchange for an announcement.  Since Johnson’s Wax did not pay WXXX to carry that old GLOCOAT ad on Burns & Allen, then there is no violation of the rules.   However, advertising for cigarettes and little cigars is in the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission and the airing of old cigarette commercials may violate the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1969 which banned cigarette commercials from radio and television.

DISCLAIMER: THIS MANUAL WAS NOT WRITTEN BY AN ATTORNEY AND THEREFORE SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED AS LEGAL ADVICE.  REC NETWORKS IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES THAT MAY ARISE FROM THE USE OF THIS MANUAL.  THIS GUIDE IS BASED ON 20 YEARS OF KNOWLEDGE OF THE NON-COMMERCIAL (INCLUDING LPFM) BROADCAST SERVICE.