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Digital Marketing Within A Regulated Industry

14 February 2017
Various liquor bottles sitting behind bar, backlit | Digital Marketing Within A Regulated Industry | Neon

Digital marketers who find themselves working in a regulated industry, such as the financial or gambling sector, must comply with a number of rules and regulations to avoid facing legal scrutiny.

Unlike other fields where marketing often offers a certain amount of free-reign over advertising and tactics, marketing within a regulated industry brings about a number of challenges that marketers must be wary of to achieve results.

As an agency with years of experience marketing within the regulated industry with brands such as Molson Coors and more recently blu, this Neon article outlines a number of key strategies and important considerations, many of which are applicable both in-house and for agencies, to ensure that you stay ahead of the curve; and on the right side of the law.

What Is A Regulated Industry?

In simple terms, a business operating within a regulated industry is a business that is controlled by government rules. From a digital marketing perspective, this could mean that the use of certain marketing channels are limited, prohibited, or that the activities within that marketing channel must comply to a set of strict rules and requirements.

The below, non-exhaustive list of regulated industries in which digital marketers may operate in, will offer some guidance as to whether the industry within which you work must comply with digital marketing regulations:

  • Financial Services (the Financial Conduct Authority)
  • Alcohol (regulation overseen by the Portman Group)
  • Tobacco (regulated by the EU TPD)
  • Gambling (responsibility of the Advertising Standards Agency)
  • Pharmaceutical (regulated by the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry
  • Legal services (regulated by the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority)

The clarity of the law and the certainty around “do’s” and “don’ts” varies from industry to industry. For example, in the alcohol industry, the legislation is relatively well established with plenty of guidance to be found on the Portman Group website. Other industries, such as e-cigarettes (which fall under European tobacco legislation – the EUTPD) are less clear with little to no guidance from the UK Government. The murkier the water, the more likely the industry is to have what has become known as “challenger brands”.

Smoke isolated on black background | Digital Marketing Within A Regulated Industry | Neon

Understanding Challenger Brands

The approach towards such legislations, especially with regards to relatively new legislation where there is little to no case law or official legal guidelines to work from, can vary depending on the level of risk that the company is willing to take.

As well as the clarity of the law, a company’s approach to marketing is often determined by the size and market dominance of the company or client in question and whether they have shareholders or other stakeholders who aren’t likely to be best pleased should any negative press surface following a breach of law.

Generally, the bigger the company, the less risk they are willing to take. Conversely a smaller market newcomer may be more willing to push the legal boundaries as they are likely to have less to lose should the regulators come knocking.

The Challenges To Face

Many of the points that one could see as challenges of working in a regulated industry may, and quite rightly so, be viewed as opportunities to stay ahead of the competition. The below challenges are listed in a no particular order:

  • Advertising via certain channels may be absolutely prohibited or restricted. For instance, in the alcohol industry, for any user-generated content on company websites, only “registered members” may contribute. Fortunately, the Portman Group does offer thorough guidance to alcohol brands.
  • Be sure to research and understand the regulation in your sector and your stance validated by an internal or external legal professional. Non-compliance can be damaging both financially and from a brand image perspective.
  • Increased steps in the sign-off process. All activities and/or content that is produced will need to be signed-off by both brand and legal teams, which can slow the process down resulting in higher costs.
  • Legislations and guidance often change and evolves over time so companies must invest to stay abreast of any developments to ensure compliance.

Strategies For Regulated Industries

A number of the below strategies can be implemented relatively quickly and for little cost, whereas others require a greater commitment of resource. That being said, the more strategies that your company can implement; the great chance you have of staying ahead of the competition:

  • Conduct competitor analysis with a particular focus on their activities which appear to push the boundaries of the legality framework. Are they seeing results from this riskier approach? If so, you should consider making a case to the senior team to follow the lead.
  • If working with an external agency, or indeed if you are an external agency, ensure clear brand and legal guidelines on content are in place and have been agreed upon between the parties. This will enable you to work as efficiently as possible, helping to avoid time and money on countless iterations that could have been avoided had the initial guidelines been clearer.
  • Process, process and more process. Getting proposals, campaigns, content or any other digital marketing item or media can be a time-consuming process at the best of times. Add to the mix your legal and compliance teams and things can become tricky. Be sure to map out the sign-off process (in detail) and seek buy-in from all those involved in the process.
  • Be sure to seek management buy-in on your activities and approach to avoid conflict. You’ll want to ensure they’re happy with the process too, which could help you down the line should anybody begin shirking responsibility.
  • Store brand assets, guidelines and content do’s and don’ts in a central location that all necessary parties can access at any time.


Whilst digital marketing in regulated industries does come with its challenges, there is – or certainly should be – a level playing field as competitors will also be complying with the same set of rules and restrictions that you will face.

They key point is that with whatever approach you decide to take, you have the buy-in from those with whom the authority lies. Brands that are up-to-date with the relevant regulations, think creatively and are aligned internally can stay ahead of the competition by pushing boundaries and “thinking outside the box” when it comes to executing marketing campaigns.

Neon works with a number of global clients in regulated industries, providing strategic marketing without compromise. If you’d like to find out more, why not contact us.

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