All marketing and advertising must be:
- an accurate description of the product or service
- socially responsible (not encouraging illegal, unsafe or anti-social behaviour)
There are regulations that restrict what advertisers can and can’t do.
As well as the regulations, there are 2 advertising codes of practice that you need to follow to help you advertise legally.
You must describe your product or service accurately.
Requirements for specific products
There are also specific requirements that apply to certain sectors, such as:
- beauty products
- environmentally friendly products
For example, you can only claim your drink is ‘low in alcohol’ if it contains between 0.5% and 1.2% alcohol by volume.
If you’re gathering, storing or using information about customers or potential customers, you must also protect their data.
Regulations that affect advertising
Advertising to consumers
The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations mean you can’t mislead or harass consumers by, for example:
• including false or deceptive messages
• leaving out important information
• using aggressive sales techniques
Read ‘The consumer protection from unfair trading regulations’ for the rules on advertising legally.
Advertising to businesses
Advertising to businesses is covered by the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations. As well as being accurate and honest, you must not make misleading comparisons with competitors, that includes:
• using a competitor’s logo or trademark, or something very similar
• comparing your product with a competitor’s product that’s not the same
Download ‘The Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008’ for more detail about the regulations that cover advertising to businesses.
If you break the regulations, you could be reported to either a local Trading Standards office or the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). You could be fined, prosecuted or imprisoned.
Advertising codes of practice
There are 2 advertising codes of practice that describe how businesses should advertise.
They cover all kinds of promotional communications, depending where the advert or promotion will appear.
The Committee of Advertising Practice code has rules that cover non-broadcast advertising (eg print, online), sales promotion and direct marketing (eg telesales and email).
The code specifies standards for accuracy and honesty that businesses must stick to, including specific conditions, eg:
• advertising to children
• causing offence
• political advertising
Broadcast media (eg TV, radio)
You must follow broadcast codes that cover issues including taste, decency and product placement.
As well as setting standards about accuracy and honesty businesses must stick to, they also have rules about things like scheduling.
You also need to follow rules about taste, decency, product placement etc that apply to all broadcasting.
These are called ‘broadcast codes’. Find out more about them on the Ofcom website.
Enforcing the rules
The rules are enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
Anyone who thinks advertising rules have been broken can complain to the ASA within 3 months of the advert appearing.
If an advert breaks the rules, it may be withdrawn. If the product doesn’t match the description or the advert breaks the law, you could be prosecuted.
You must describe your product accurately. This means if you make a claim about your product, you must be able to prove what you say.
Your adverts must describe the actual cost accurately, including any ongoing or associated costs (eg subscription fees) and taxes (eg VAT).
A customer pays £50 a product, without being told the price doesn’t include VAT. This was not explained in the advert, so the advert is misleading.
You must check if customers want to be contacted by fax, phone, post or email, and give them the chance to object.
When you collect customer details, you must get their permission if you want to send them other offers or promotions.
You must also ask for their permission if you want to share their information with another organisation.
Letting customers opt out
Customers have the right to stop their information being used for direct marketing.
You must make it easy to opt out - eg by sending a ‘STOP’ text to a short number, or using an ‘unsubscribe’ link.
Telesales and fax marketing
You must say who you are when you make a telesales call, and give your address or phone number if you’re asked for it. The number for customers to call must be a freephone number.
You’re not allowed to send marketing faxes to individuals unless you’ve received their prior permission, but you can send unsolicited faxes to companies.
You must check that you’re not contacting anyone who’s asked not to receive these calls or faxes, using the:
• Telephone Preference Service
• Fax Preference Service
It’s illegal to phone or fax someone registered with these services if you don’t have their permission. You can be fined £5,000 for each unsolicited phonecall.
If you want to make automated calls - with pre-recorded phone messages - you must get the permission of the individual or business first.
Check that your mailing lists don’t include anyone who’s asked not to receive direct mailing, using the Mail Preference Service.
Email marketing and text messages
You’re only allowed to send marketing emails to individual customers if they’ve given you permission.
Emails or text messages must clearly indicate:
• who you are
• that you’re selling something
• what the promotions are, and any conditions
Check that you aren’t sending emails to anyone who’s asked not to receive them, using the Email Preference Service.
If you buy or rent a mailing list, ask the supplier if you have the right to use it for email marketing.
Every marketing email you send must give the person the ability to opt out of (or ‘unsubscribe from’) further emails.
The information should be easy to understand.
Find out more about cookies on the Information Commissioner’s Office website and AboutCookies.org.
Customers can complain if you misuse their information, and you could be ordered to pay a fine or compensation.