Five ways to stay on the right side of the law when advertising


If a member of the public or any company or organisation thinks the rules have been broken, they can complain to the ASA within three months of the ad being shown.

There are different codes for broadcast and non-broadcast media, while with direct marketing there are clear guidelines on GDPR-compliant data protection and permission for contact.

With a growing number of ways of reaching audiences available, keeping up with the latest regulations isn’t always easy. Equally, what constitutes advertising and what doesn’t is invariably not clear, especially online.

However, the CAP and ASA do consider sponsored vlogs and other content, including social media, to be advertising, making online content even more of a minefield. Meanwhile, in our multi-screen world, the media landscape remains increasingly fragmented.

Equally, in these times of ‘fake news’, communications professionals arguably have more responsibility than ever for promoting legal, honest, truthful and decent content. Consequently, compliance is a moral as well as a legal obligation.

Here are five ways to help you stay on the right side of media law:

1. Be clear on when content is marketing communication

Remember this includes anything a brand ambassador or influencer has published. With social media, you can avoid falling foul of the ASA by using the #Ad hashtag. If you enjoy celebrity endorsement, make sure that any tweets from them are clearly labelled as promotional.

2. Think before you retweet

If you retweet, comment on or even ‘like’ someone else’s post, this can be seen as ‘adopting and incorporating’ messaging into your own marketing communications. The ASA also considers any re-shared, user-generated content to be subject to the CAP code.

3. Be careful whom you target

As well as not being allowed to mislead or exaggerate, advertising must target communications responsibly. Some TV adverts, for example, may need to be shown after the 9pm watershed. Moreover, there are now strict rules regarding the advertising to children of food and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar. These apply across non-broadcast channels, including social media.

4. Don’t end promotions early

If a promotion to win new business goes so well you think you can afford to end it early, think again. The CAP code is clear that closing dates can only be changed in ‘unavoidable’ circumstances.

5. Backing up all claims

Adjectives such as ‘best-selling’ must be backed up, for example by independent, verifiable sales data clearly showing you’ve outsold other, comparable products. Remember, too, that you obviously can’t describe something as ‘best-selling’ if it was, say, five years ago but isn’t now.

The ASA and CAP have newsletters to help you stay abreast of industry and legal developments. They also offer advice services if you’re concerned about violating guidelines.

Finally, by using a media buying agency, you will have the additional peace of mind that comes from knowing all your promotional material is placed in a fully legal and compliant manner.