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Rules Can Be Broken in Marketing


Marketing is one of the few areas of society and business where the rules regarding political correctness, grammar, and imagery can be broken.

In early 2017, Sling TV began running a commercial featuring actor Danny Trejo. The spot is very simple. Trejo is sitting backward in a chair wearing a sleeveless black shirt. The background is black as well. The commercial opens with Trejo stating, “People say I’m scary.”  

Whoa! Are you allowed to comment negatively on someone’s appearance in 2017? Apparently so, since there was no outrage about characterizing Trejo based on his looks. (I also assume he has no problem accepting money for the spot.)

If we are honest, Trejo is a little scary. He has lots of nasty tattoos and long, stringy hair. His facial skin is pitted and he has huge bags under his eyes. His voice is also deep and raspy — almost sinister. If a group of young children without verbal filters saw him in the park, they would probably say he is scary.

The above example illustrates an important point when it comes to marketing: Standard rules that apply everywhere else can be broken.    

Below are three areas where law firms can typically get away with rule breaking:

PhotoShop: Pictures of people and offices should be “cleaned up” to enhance the way they look. For example, headshot photos should be professionally touched-up for stray hairs, wrinkled clothing, and eye circles. Exterior photos of office buildings should have power lines, garbage cans, and other “non-essentials” removed.

Grammar: Certainly slogans and taglines can break grammar rules, but even website content can bend what would be considered proper writing. For example, “their” can be used for his or her, even if the accompanying subject is singular. Lists don’t have to include every conceivable option or scenario, especially if doing so would make the content unreadable to the average client.

Political Correctness: Assume you are putting up a billboard that will feature an image of a group of people. If the community where the board is located is 85 percent black, there isn’t a need to have five different ethnicities represented. In marketing, you are allowed to speak to your desired audience.


  • Marketing campaigns frequently break generally accepted rules regarding grammar, imagery, and sensitive subjects such as race and appearance.
  • Be willing to experiment with different marketing messages and approaches, as long as they are tactful.
  • There is a point at which advertising can become dishonest. Stay away from it. It’s not worth tarnishing your reputation or violating rules of professional responsibility.
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