Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.
Marketers of publications should ensure that claims about the content of the publications are in line with the Code’s requirements. The Code contains only one rule that relates specifically to publications (Rule 3.8). That states “Claims for the content of non-fiction publications should not exaggerate the value, accuracy, scientific validity or practical usefulness of the product. Marketers must ensure that claims that have not been independently substantiated but are based merely on the content of a publication do not mislead consumers.”
In line with rule 3.8, marketers should ensure that they hold evidence for direct or indirect factual claims contained in their ads. In two separate adjudications against a book about prostate cancer by The Natural Health Foundation (31 March 2004 and 25 August 2004), complainants challenged factual claims such as “Every hour one man dies of prostate cancer” and the implied claim that death rates from prostate cancer were 30 to 40 times higher in Switzerland than in China because of differences in diet. The advertiser substantiated the first claim but could not provide comprehensive substantiation for the latter.
If it constitutes the title of a publication, a claim may be featured in the advertisement if the title is put in inverted commas and the first reference to it is followed immediately by the author's name. A claim such as “How to cure depression by drinking tea” would normally be unacceptable because not only does it target sufferers of a serious medical condition (contrary to Rule 12.2) but also the advertisers are unlikely to be able to substantiate it. But, if that claim forms the title of the book, it would be acceptable to state “"How to cure depression by drinking tea" by John Smith” provided the accompanying copy conveys the content of the book in discursive terms, for example “the author discusses depression and examines the validity of various treatments”.
Unproven claims that are incapable of objective substantiation and are unlikely to affect the reader’s behaviour are likely to be acceptable if they are obviously based on the author’s opinion. A claim such as “The author explains why major global organisations are collaborating to discredit alternative therapies” is likely to be a problem, because the author seems to be stating a fact, not expressing an opinion. If it was presented as the author’s opinion, the claim is likely to be acceptable. For example, “The author explains why he believes major global organisations are collaborating to discredit alternative therapies”. Other terms likely to be acceptable are claims such as “The author / argues / debates / questions / ponders / hypothesizes / theorizes / thinks / postulates / considers / discusses / disputes …”. Terms such as “investigates / analyses / examines” and the like, may be used as long as the claims being made are clearly speculative. The ASA nevertheless considered that the question posed by Dr Vernon Coleman, “How do you know that your burger or sausage doesn’t contain ground up bits of cancer?” misleadingly exaggerated the likelihood of cancerous tissue being present in meat products (Publishing House, 30 May 2007).
When advertising self-help health books marketers should make sure they do not cause undue fear or distress (Rule 4.2) and should not encourage self-diagnosis or treatment of serious medical conditions (Rule 12.5) or discourage essential medical treatment (Publishing House, 22 June 2005).
Online booksellers should also be aware that claims in the “about the author” section are likely to fall under the Code. In 2013 the ASA ruled that the “about the author” copy on Amazon.co.uk was irresponsible, because the text, which discussed the author’s views on the dangers of vaccines and the benefits of having measles, could discourage essential medical treatment. (Amazon EU Sarl, 10 July 2013.)
Marketers should ensure that they do not exaggerate the scientific or practical usefulness of claims (Streetwise Marketing Ltd, 12 January 2005 and 24 August 2005) and should avoid making claims that are likely to exploit or frighten vulnerable people unless the claims are justifiable and the evidence conclusive. The ASA considered claims, for a book about Bowel and Digestive Health, that stated “Death begins in the bowel! … These wastes slowly poison your whole body” were likely to distress recipients and cause undue fear (Winchester Press, 2 June 2004). (See also Fleet Street Publications, 11 June 2003).
When promoting diet books, marketers should ensure their advertising is responsible. The ASA upheld a complaint about an ad that featured a book called “SIX WEEKS TO OMG, GET SKINNIER THAN ALL YOUR FRIENDS” on the grounds that it could encourage vulnerable individuals to engage in competitive dieting or unhealthy eating habits. (Michael Joseph Ltd, 3 October 2012).
Anecdotes and testimonials are acceptable in ads for publications if the advertisers have signed and dated permission from those giving them (Rule 3.45), see Testimonials and endorsements. More generally, marketers wanting to make “No 1” or “best-seller” claims for books should base their claims on the book having occupied the number one position in a recognised book chart for at least one week (Random House Group Ltd, 18 October 2006). Readers are likely to interpret best-seller claims as meaning that books appeared near the top of the sales list in a widely recognised book chart; the ASA understands that best-seller lists are compiled by examining cumulative book sales up to a given date and should not be confused with a “fast-seller list” which is an annual survey of the 100 top-selling paperbacks published for the first time during a given year by British publishers (The Writers Bureau Ltd, 7 November 2007).
Marketers should describe an advertised product as a “book” only if it has an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and is registered with the British Library. Pamphlets, booklets and photocopied material that consumers are unlikely to regard as books should not be described as such. Marketers should not imply that they are offering hardback books if the books customers receive are paperback (Winchester Press, 23 November 2005).
Generally, marketers who claim that their publication is "new" should ensure that it has been available for no longer than a year.
Marcoms of books that are graphic in nature may reflect the content of the book but marketers should try to ensure they do not cause serious or widespread offence.