Business development · 11 September 2017

Ten top tips to keep your advertising copy legal

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Advertising copy must make clear to customers exactly what terms of the offer they are signing up to

Business Advice expert, and Grid Law founder, David Walker returns to offer ten essential pointers for keeping advertising copy legal when running a marketing campaign.

There’s always so much to think about when planning an advertising campaign. You want it to have maximum impact, but you don’t want to over step the mark. Adverse publicity could damage the reputation of your business or the products you’re selling, so there’s a fine line to be drawn.

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve written the advertising copy yourself, or engaged an agency to write them for you, you’re ultimately responsible for them. You must remember this, so here are ten top tips to help keep your advertising campaign on the right side of the law.

  1. Make sure your advert is legal, honest, decent and truthful

This is a fundamental requirement of all advertisements. If your advert is not legal, honest, decent and truthful you run the risk of it being banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and possible legal action against you.

  1. Avoid statements that are misleading or confusing

Pay careful attention to the claims being made about your products. Are they ambiguous? Have any features of your product been exaggerated?

Also, think about the information you may be omitting. Missing out vital details, such as the fact that delivery charges are not included, could be misleading or confusing for your potential customers if the price isn’t as good a deal as they thought it was.

  1. Don’t take unfair advantage of someone’s lack of knowledge or experience

You’re the expert in your field, and whilst you want to persuade potential customers to use your products or services, you mustn’t take unfair advantage of them. This includes using shocking claims and, for example, putting people at fear that their health may be at risk.

  1. Try not to offend anyone

No advert should set out to offend anyone but some brands push the boundaries more than others. If you’re being a little more risqué with you advertising, it’s important to keep all circumstances in mind.

Think about your intended audience, where and when your advert will be seen. Making sure your advert is, as far as possible, appropriate to all the circumstances will help reduce the risk of action from the ASA.

  1. Is your advert socially responsible?

In the past, social responsibility was focused on issues such as selling cars based on speed and performance. Whilst this is still an important issue, hot topics right now are gender stereotyping and body image.

Think very carefully before, for example, showing a man doing DIY or a woman cleaning. Perhaps think about running a series of adverts where the roles are shared equally. This is a very new concept, so expect more guidance on these issues in the future.

  1. Don’t say something is a benefit if you’re legally obliged to provide it

A good example here is if you are obliged to provide a cooling off period where people can change their mind about the purchase. You mustn’t promote this as a benefit and inducement to make a purchase when it is not.

  1. Make sure you can back up any claims with documentary evidence

If you are making any claims about the results that can be achieved using your products, make sure you have evidence to back them up before running the advert. You may need to substantiate you claims if they are challenged.

  1. Are you selling any regulated products?

If you are selling regulated products, such as alcohol or financial services there are additional rules you must comply with. Most businesses that operate in these areas will know that they are subject to tighter controls and regulations

However, if you are new to a particular industry take professional advice so you are fully aware of what controls and regulations you are subject to.

  1. Adverts targeting children

If your adverts are targeted towards children, especially if they are under 12, take special care. Make sure that there is nothing in your advert that is likely to cause a child any physical, mental or moral harm.

Be aware that children will copy what they see other children doing so if, for example, they are cycling, they should observe the Highway Code.

Also, don’t do anything to encourage children to undermine their parent’s authority of badgering them into making a purchase.

  1. Do any of your claims need to be qualified?

Say for example you are offering a very enticing deal that a customer could by a car “for just £199 per month”. If, as is very likely, you have to put down a deposit and make a final payment you need to qualify your primary claim with this additional information. Customers need to be very clear about the terms of the offer they are signing up to.

A final point to remember is that you advert is not just judged on what it says, it is judged on what people think it says. So, if you’re not sure about the content of an advert, take professional advice or speak directly to the ASA. They have a Copy Advice service which will help you stay on the right side of the law.

If you have any questions about advertising and marketing law, please feel free to email me at editors@businessadvice.co.uk and I’ll happily answer them for you.

Catch up on some of David’s recent Business Advice articles:

  1. A checklist of legal issues to consider when rebranding a small business
  2. How can I prevent a new business idea from being stolen?
  3. Writing the terms of use and privacy policy for a small online business 

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

David Walker is the founder of Grid Law, a firm which first targeted the motorsport industry – advising on sponsorship deals, new contracts and building of personal brands. He has now expanded his remit to include entrepreneurs, aiding with contract law, dispute resolution and protecting and defending intellectual property rights.

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