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.

The ASA regularly receives complaints about advertisements for contraceptives, most of which reflect individuals’ disapproval of references to contraceptives in a public medium or their belief that advertising such products encourages casual sexual encounters. However, rule 4.1 of the CAP Code states “The fact that a product is offensive to some people is not grounds for finding a marketing communication in breach of the Code” and, as such, complaints based on those objections alone are rarely, if ever, investigated by the ASA.

Marketers should be aware that ads for contraceptives might still be investigated by the ASA if complaints relate to the approach used by the advertiser, rather than simply to the product being advertised. See Contraceptives: Offence.

Objections to ads for the morning-after pill on the grounds that it is an abortofacient are also unlikely to be investigated, in large part because such objections tend to relate more to the nature of the product, rather than to the content of the ads themselves. The ASA is unlikely to make a judgement on the moment when life begins – a subject that we understand is still open to considerable ethical debate.

Some advertisers make efficacy claims about the levels of protection that their methods of contraception afford. Marketers should be aware that objective claims such as these are open to challenge and rigorous evidence of efficacy must be held.

In 1999, the ASA investigated a challenge to a 94% reliability claim made about a contraceptive device called Persona. The advertisers sent a copy of a clinical trial and two expert evaluation reports. The ASA acknowledged that the advertisers’ evidence had been published and accepted by most experts and concluded that the 94% reliability claim was acceptable (Unipath Ltd, 15 September 1999).

In contrast, a paid-for post on Facebook for Natural Cycles, which stated “Natural Cycles is a highly accurate, certified, contraceptive app that adapts to every woman’s unique menstrual cycle. Sign up to get to know your body and prevent pregnancies naturally”, including a video which stated “Natural Cycles officially offers a new, clinically tested alternative to birth control methods” was ruled to be misleading in 2018.  While the ASA agreed that the app could be effective as a method of birth control, they ultimately concluded that - on the evidence provided, that showed a significant difference between the effectiveness in ‘perfect use’ and ‘typical use’ - it was misleading to describe it as “highly accurate” or suggest that it could be used in place of birth control methods that were highly reliable in preventing unwanted pregnancies (NaturalCycles Nordic AB Sweden, 29 August 2018).

See also Offence: Sex and Post-Conception Advice Services (PCAS).

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