Advertising is no doubt one of the most important components, if not the most important component, of a Franchise company’s success. It is also, however, one of the largest areas of litigation in franchising.
In today’s litigious environment, a plaintiff’s attorney representing a disgruntled franchisee searches for every mistake made by a franchisor. The ad your company places soliciting prospective franchisees can be the “crack in the door” that the litigator waits to slide through. So how can your company protect itself from the clutches of a plaintiff’s attorney waiting to attack? First and foremost, make sure you have reviewed the law of each state affected by the ad. Did your company properly register the ad before it was published? Surprisingly, a number of states require registration of ads before they appear to the public. These states maintain a listing of all ads properly registered by franchisors. An example of what can go wrong when you fail to register occurred in New York when a Franchisor advertised for franchisees using the New York Times. The Franchisor was not located in New York nor registered to sell franchises in New York. Normally the ad being placed in the New York Times would not have caused a registration problem because the majority of circulation was outside the State of New York. But the Franchisor made the mistake of also placing the ad in the New York Times Metro edition which has a majority of its circulation inside New York. As a result, the Franchisor was exposed to both civil and criminal liability under the New York Franchise Sales Act. Unfortunately, this is just one example of not having a proper compliance program for the advertising/marketing department.
A second important area that a franchisor should include in its advertising compliance program is the review of all ads to see if each ad is factually consistent with the franchisor’s Franchise Disclosure Document (“FDD”). It is only natural that a franchisor wants each prospective franchisee to think that their franchise is the “opportunity of a lifetime” and that it will provide “financial security” or that the franchise is one that a prospect has always “dreamed of owning.” The issue is not whether a franchisor “feels” the information is consistent, BUT whether the ad provides an opportunity for the litigator to show any inconsistency with FDD information provided his/her client. If there is a possible inconsistency, the franchisor has a legal problem.
If you want to be safe, include a legal review of your advertisements before they are published to ensure they have not “crossed the line” and exposed your company to civil and criminal liability.