Commercial Speech: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Ashley Johns

Ashley has taught college business courses and has a master's degree in management.

Do companies have guidelines when communicating with consumers? What if they aren't telling the truth? Find the answer to these questions and more by completing this lesson on commercial speech and the guidelines surrounding it.

What is Commercial Speech?

Commercial speech is the advertising of a product or service through printed materials, broadcast or the Internet. It had to be defined to distinguish it from political speech, which deals with areas of social interest.

Commercial speech is regulated to protect consumers from misleading advertisements. It's rare that the government needs to step in to protect a company. There have, however, been instances where companies have taken commercial speech too far, and the government has stepped in to protect an industry from getting a bad reputation. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court protected the legal profession's reputation in Florida by preventing lawyers from soliciting accident victims within 30 days of an accident.

In contrast, political speech is protected by the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and generally has little regulation. An example of political speech would be a flyer discussing the options in an upcoming election.

Examples of Commercial Speech

Forms of commercial speech are everywhere. You get e-mails from companies. You hear radio commercials. You see signs on the side of the road and advertisements on the Internet. If you really paid attention to how much commercial speech is in front of you every day, it might frighten you. Let's look at some examples:

  • Commercials: You've probably seen commercials for various insurance companies, like Progressive, Nationwide and GEICO, on TV or online or heard them on the radio. These are an example of commercial speech because they promote services offered by specific companies. Commercials are non-invasive in nature.
  • Internet Ads: You might have noticed that what you searched for online yesterday is being advertised to you today via social media or a pop-up ad. You might even receive e-mails prompting you to place an order for a product that you previously looked at. Again, this is commercial speech because it's promoting a product or service to consumers. However, it's a more invasive form of commercial speech, and some consumers want it stopped.
  • Flyers: Have you ever been handed a flyer that advertised the products or services of a company? Or maybe you grabbed such a flyer from a bulletin board at a laundromat or grocery store? This is yet another example of commercial speech and is typically considered non-invasive.

We see advertisements for Target and SONY so frequently that we might not give them much thought. Commercial speech is pervasive in our society.

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