From time to time I like to remind clients of specific network guidelines to keep in mind when developing advertising. One such guideline involves controversial issues of public importance in advertising, also known as advocacy advertising.

Per the network guidelines, the networks will not sell time for advertising that presents a partisan position on a controversial public issue. This policy is not intended to apply to the sale of time to political candidates, to those authorized by candidates to buy time on their behalf, or to political parties.

A controversial issue is a serious matter that has an impact on society or its institutions, and regarding which different segments of the community have strongly opposing positions. This policy does not preclude mere references to a societal problem, where there is consensus as to the existence of the problem. However, the policy would ordinarily preclude partisan discussion of answers or solutions to the problem because typically they are a matter of debate or a difference of opinion.

An advertisement will be unacceptable if it directly addresses a controversial issue of public importance and takes an explicit partisan position thereon, or if the advertisement presents information or makes statements that have the effect of paralleling (or advancing) the positions taken by partisans in the controversy.

The networks have strict policies regarding advertising controversial issues of public importance. So, if you have plans to create advertising that involves a controversial issue, make sure your creative complies with the network guidelines. And remember, when it doubt, ask questions. The network editors are there to answer any questions you may have.

Marilyn Colaninno is Director of Rights and Clearances for Reed Smith and is responsible for clearing commercials for the firm’s many clients in the advertising industry. If you have specific questions, please contact Marilyn directly at 212 549 0347 or at