Pioneers vs. Settlers: my legal soapbox for US advertising

Advertising legals in the United States is just like our Healthcare. Inefficient, inconsistent, expensive, and puts a bunch of milk in someone’s fridge. Might as well be you and your fridge. And your kind of milk.

“Most importantly, this should not be an issue that takes up your time or stresses you out. You’re not a lawyer, nor standards and practices. You make a recommendation based on past experience.” - @ytf

In order to type legals you have to decide. Are you a pioneer or a settler? We’d all love to think we are pioneers. We all know that they end up face down in a river with an arrow in their back while the settlers enjoy their cornbread and bacon sandwiches sitting in their rocking chairs sipping on moonshine.

Unless you’ve already shipped something for this combination of agency and brand, ask for a reference to match. Can’t get one? YouTube it. Seriously. 98% of us work on brands that advertise all the darn time. Go to their channel, find a reference, screen grab it, bring it into Flame, resize it to HD, and use that as a guide. Anything in the last few months should be fine.

Still can’t find one? Look for their competitor’s ads and start there. Back in the day I used to cut political ads and the best way to get your opponent’s attack ads off the air was to have Aunt Jenny call the network and complain the legal wasn’t big enough. They’d shelve the ad for a few hours and give you the head start you needed to fling some poo.

Still can’t find one? Yikes. Welcome to Legal Town. Population: You. Here’s what should keep the sheriff from knockin on your door.

First, don’t believe anybody when they say they want it 22 scan lines. Scan lines died with that lead-filled CRT that’s now someones fish tank. 22 scan lines used to be a legitimate thing cuz thats the smallest that NTSC cameras used to be able to actually resolve in the old Linotype and luma key video days. Today we got pixels. And that 22? That may or may not refer to pixels…AT NTSC RESOLUTION. Back in the day we made legals that were 22 scan lines high in a 720x486 frame. That became a bit of a standard and therefore a legal consumed 22/486 of the height of the frame, or, 4.5% of the height of the frame. So, in 1920x1080, 4.5% of the height of the frame is 1080*(22/486)=48.9, or, 49 pixels heigh. Therefore, a 49 pixel high legal in 1920x180 will down convert via center extraction to a 22 pixels heigh in NTSC.

22 = 49
20 = 45
18 = 40

Here’s the rub. A lot of artists hear 22 scan lines, don’t think anything of it, type it up, send it, no consumer ever gets pissy, nobody gets sued, nobody’s car gets keyed and now its considered kosher for that particular combination of agency and brand. Sigh.

Historically, nobody ever got fired for sticking to this:

3 seconds for the first line + 1 second per addtl line.

1 line = 3 seconds
2 lines = 4 seconds
3 lines = 5 seconds

However, we are trending hard toward a “see and say” style. Meaning, the legal may only need to be visible for scenes in which it is relevant. Working on a car ad? A legal qualifying a particular car feature may only need to be on the scene in which it’s being demontstrated, not necessarily the reverse angle reaction shot of mom using her brainwaves to close the boot, so that legal may or may not need to dangle on to it’s neighboring shots. Different brands do it differently. Neither are wrong, but only one is correct for that brand.

Nobody ever got fired for keeping all legals and supers within 1920x1080 4x3 Title Safe. Because some networks still only receive a single deliverable for HD and NTSC, someone somewhere may take your beautiful 1920x1080 rectangle and chop off the sides, make it more of a square and mush it down to 720x486.

But! 1920x1080 4x3 Action Safe is a legitimate standard introduced a decade ago and is widely accepted …until some no-talent bozo who doesn’t know a croustade from a crostini bounces your spot and makes you look bad and your client misses the air date and you never work in this business again.

Some advertisers skip the 4x3 entirely and go for 1920x1080 16x9 Title Safe or Action Safe. This typically gets temporarily flagged during QC at the major distribution houses, but can be overridden with permission from your client.

Keeping things neat and tidy and as close to 4x3 title safe means much less art direction for 1x1, 4x5, and everybody’s favorite, 9x16 deliverables. “That’s a good thing” - Martha Stewart

Condense that stuff. Scale it on the X as much as you want, as long as it’s legible. Most of the time you could squash it 65-85% and nobody would ever know. Typically though the Art Directors want it closer to normal, until it gets forced onto 2 lines and crosses the product. Oh, and be a good Lame Artist and don’t ever condense or use the Scale button in the Flame Text module! Shame on you if you do! It looks horsey and you should only be typing in the Text module. Output a matte and comp it downstream in Action and use modern filtering algorithms like EWA when non-proportionally scaling. Don’t worry, there’s a Logik Topik for that too…

I have 2 rules.

  1. Never ship a legal that is 0% transparent*.
  2. Never ship a legal that is 0% opaque**.

Anywhere in the middle that is legible should be fine.

*I always confuse transparent with opaque.
**I always confuse opaque with transparent.

98% of the time its Helvetica Condensed Light. The rest its probably Myriad Pro, SF, or a custom font for that brand.

Participation may vary. Terms and conditions apply. Professional Lame Artist. Don’t try this at home. All rights reversed.


This is legendary, just for all the analogies alone.

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I usually do my legals in a BFX. I set the type at twice the size then scale it down 50% in action. This enables me to use the filtering in action as well as minimize the aliasing in text to the point where I can scale it in x with no issues.


great stuff. I’ve come to the same conclusion after a year of delivering to the US, from what i can tell: “there are no rules - nobody really cares”

Now… if only this were the case for the UK…grrrrrrrrrrr!

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its not so bad in UK…once you know the timing formula for legals. As for font size, i always use Helvetica CY Plain, set to 64px in height - fits the Cleacast template perfectly.

As for caption duration - 2 sec recognition time, then .2s per word up to 10 words (4sec total), then another 2 sec is added for more than 10 words and continue with the .2s per word.
Avoid multiple lines of text - they have clamped down on this recently.
And if you have any onscreen graphics that include text - visible during the legals - then you will have to extend the duration because those graphics are now classed as legals and so have to be counted.

and weirdly, you don’t have to count Brand names as words in a legal !!

based on 14yrs making uk commercials - but don’t quote me on this, i might be wrong!


my favorite thing about UK legals is you can just throw your arms up and go, “I don’t make the rules”. I found that lack of flexibility very helpful. It’s common to spend a full day messing about with legal size, duration, and transparency in the US.

It’s like ripping a bandage off quickly in the UK or spending all day in pain as you try different ways to pull the bandage off as slow as you can in the US.

I suppose it’s a shock to no one that the American legal system is a mess. Ha.


The best one in the uk is that web addresses count as one word.
I once bought the web address ‘can_help_slimming_only_as_part_of_a_calorie’ and ‘the_value_of_your’ thinking I could beat the system, but I failed to monetise it. It seemed like a good idea at the time!


Once, I had a legal that contained the word “Internet” and I typed it capitalized but the agency’s Art Director wanted it lower case. I pointed out that it was a proper noun and they looked at me, rightly, like I was the biggest nerd they ever met. I changed it to lower case and - guess what, the legal department kicked it back because Internet was a proper noun that needed to be capitalized. Of course, I was the one who had to stay late to re-deliver everything but I had my smugness to keep me company.


I’m going to have to license this one from you. Soooo good…

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The best company. Haha.

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So, I learned something interesting recently. On 9x16 versions, client mentioned that any legals and supers needed to be 250 pixels from the bottom of the image to make space for Swipe Ups and such.

149 pixels? That must have been invested by a relative of the asshat that decided that 5280 feet make a mile.

last time I needed snapchat safety it was 150 on top and bottom and 64 on the sides of a 1080x1920 image. I made an overlay.

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Hey folks. Is 4x3 safe still a thing for US TV delivery these days? Or are we now in the glorious land of 90% HD safe? Having seen what I assume is the current Extreme Reach specs, which seem a bit contradictory, I’m confused.


Yes and no. Yes Action is the new Title Safe, until someone somewhere doesn’t know and makes sc stink.

Likely Action is fine just get a reference and share your decision with client.


Cheers Randy!

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Thanks @Wispy

I’m glad this post got bumped cos I missed it first time around.

Very funny and informative. My favorite type of funny :+1: