From time to time I like to remind clients of specific network guidelines to keep in mind when developing advertising. One such guideline involves the use of public symbols in advertising.

According to network standards, heads-of-state, other public officials, religious leaders, and public buildings and/or monuments must be treated with appropriate respect and dignity when mentioned or depicted in advertising.

The following guidelines apply to advertising that features public symbols:

  1. Unless authorized in writing by the Office of the White House Counsel, the use of the name or likeness of the President or Vice President of the United States and their families, as well as the Presidential Seal, is generally not acceptable for advertising purposes.
  2. Unless expressly permitted by its duly authorized representatives, the use of the White House in advertising is generally not acceptable.
  3. Other national buildings and monuments may be used in advertising provided the use is incidental to the advertiser’s promotion of a product or service and is in good taste.
  4. The networks recognize the “Flag Code,” which serves as a guide to the use of the American Flag and state statutes governing the American Flag’s use in advertising. As a general rule, the appearance of the flag may be acceptable in advertising provided that it is treated in a dignified manner and displayed with proper respect, is incidental to the main thrust of the commercial and in a natural setting, and is not employed in an attempt to enhance the advertised product or service. Rules governing the use of flags of foreign countries in advertising vary from country to country. Advertisers are required to provide evidence from a country’s consular service to support the use of that country’s flag.
  5. Use of the United Nations flag in connection with advertising is not permitted.
  6. Religious leaders may not be mentioned or depicted in any advertising without their consent.
  7. Absent special public policy considerations, the National Anthem of the United States and “Hail to the Chief” are not permitted in advertising.  However, music of a traditional or patriotic nature is permitted in advertising, provided it is used with dignity.
  8. Use of official military uniforms or vehicles is permitted subject to prior approval of the Department of Defense.

The networks have strict policies regarding the use of public symbols in advertising. So, if you have plans to create advertising which features public symbols, make sure the advertising complies with the network guidelines.  And remember, when it doubt, ask questions.

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