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.
When quoting circulation or distribution figures for publications, marketers should ensure that they hold documentary evidence to prove their stated claims. The ASA normally considers that these figures should be audited by an independent robust and industry recognised auditor, such as the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC).
In the past, marketers have included “readership” figures in their ads based on estimations, surveys, an assumption that members would pass on a publication to other people and that those people would then read the publication. This and figures extrapolated from circulation figures are unlikely to be accurate. CAP recommends that readership figures are independently audited in order to avoid misleading consumers (MI6 Confidential, 7 September 2011, National Pharmacy Association, 15 December 2010, River Newspapers NI Ltd, 10 June 2009). And, marketers should not imply that all the figures stated in an ad have been independently measured or audited if they have not (Archant Ltd, 11 March 2009).
A complaint about an ad which stated, “Tomorrow's Cleaning Circulated to over 57,000 recipients, three times a month...Tomorrow's Flooring Circulated to over 31,000 recipients, three times a month...Tomorrow's FM Circulation 62,141” was upheld in 2011. The ASA considered that the figures were misleading because they had not been audited by the ABC or another industry recognised auditor, especially as consumers would be likely to compare those figures with audited figures quoted by competitors (Opus Business Media Ltd, 14 December 2011).
No. 1 claims
In general, the ASA will regard a No.1 claim to mean best-selling, unless indicated otherwise. The ASA did not rule against an ad which stated, “Stroud Life is Stroud's No 1 newspaper. According to the latest ABC circulations figures we circulate 1,877 more copies than the Stroud News and Journal...” because the No 1 claim was qualified by the ABC audited circulation figures and because it considered that readers were likely to understand that the No.1 claim referred to Stroud Life's circulation, compared to other local newspapers (Northcliffe Media Ltd, 21 October 2009). See No.1 claims.
Moreover, in 2010 the ASA upheld a complaint about an ad which stated, “The best-read county magazine in Dorset” because it considered that consumers would be likely to interpret the claim as a best-selling claim, which the marketer was unable to substantiate with sales figures (The Dorset Magazine Ltd, 17 March 2010).
Comparisons with identifiable competitors should be based on objective criteria and should be presented in a way that is unlikely to mislead (Rule 3.33). The comparison should be verifiable, which means that readers should have access to the information on which the comparison is made, and the ad should signpost where consumers can access that information (3.35). The data for comparisons with an unidentifiable competitor does not need to be verified by consumers, although appropriate documentary evidence should still be held (3.38). See Comparisons: General and Comparisons: Verifiability.
Circulation and distribution figures
Marketers should be careful not to describe their figures as “circulation” figures (for example in terms of sales) if they relate specifically to “distribution” (for example, the number of publications which have been dispatched). CAP understands that there are different classifications for data which relate to circulation and distribution. If marketers are unsure about how their data has been classified and can subsequently be defined in this respect, they should check with their auditor. However, marketers should consider carefully how readers are likely to interpret their stated claims. The ASA has previously considered that the claimed “circulation” figures of a publication would be understood to mean that this was the number of copies that had actually reached the intended readership. Because the marketer’s data related to distribution figures, the description was considered to be misleading (Spyhole Press Ltd, 22 July 2009).