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 Code states that marketing communications must be obviously identifiable as such (Rule 2.1), this means that consumers should be able to tell from the envelope itself that it is a marketing communication. The ASA will take into account the overall impression created by the envelope and how it would be viewed by the average consumer. The ASA upheld complaints against an envelope which stated "It Doesn’t Matter To Me Who YOU ARE" on the front in place of the address and stated the name of the advertiser and its registered charity number in small print on the back. It considered that the text did not make clear that the envelope contained marketing material from Cancer Research UK. In addition, when delivered directly to recipients own homes, the text on the front of the envelope was likely to be received as a threatening message and, in that context, recipients were likely to open the envelope without paying attention to any small print on the back (Cancer Research UK, 30 January 2013).

Complaints against a package sent by Virgin Media were upheld because the claim "This package contains promotional material from Virgin Media" was considerably smaller than the main copy on the front of the envelope, was at 90 degrees to all the other text, and was located far to the right of the envelope under a series of reference numbers. The combination of those factors meant it was likely to be overlooked by consumers and therefore not be clearly identifiable as promotional material (Virgin Media Ltd, 2 November 2011). An envelope which stated “IMPORTANT CONTACT INFORMATION FOR THE HOME SELLER OF: [address]” breached the Code because including corporate branding was not considered sufficient to identify the envelope as a marcom (SpicerHaart Estate Agents Ltd t/a haart and Darlows, 18 September 2013). The ASA upheld complaints about an envelope which stated “MARKETING COMMUNICATION” at the foot of the envelope because, in the context of the presentation of the envelope overall, it was not sufficiently prominent to make clear the commercial intent of the mailing (JDM Marketing Ltd t/a Bright Life UK, 12 June 2013).

Marketers may legitimately entice consumers to open envelopes but must not mislead about the source, content or nature of mailings. An envelope which featured text, presented as handwriting, stating "This came to me by mistake. Made me want to be a member of your union! No.35" was considered likely to mislead readers into believing that, after receiving the mailing in error and reading the text "25% off home insurance for UNISON members", one of their neighbours had added a note recommending the offer. Because the text could lead a recipient to believe that the offer was particularly generous and encourage them to open the envelope to find out more the ASA ruled it misleading (UIA (Insurance) Ltd, 30 October 2013). Claims should not mislead by exaggerating the importance of the mailing or the status of the information enclosed. Advertisers have fallen foul of the Code by misleading consumers as to the nature of their correspondence. Envelopes which masquerade as social correspondence, official correspondence or private commercial correspondence or otherwise obfuscate the fact that the envelope is in fact a marketing communication, are also likely to be problematic.

Examples of ways that envelopes masquerade as social correspondence include using hand-written text or printed styles, postage stamps or other types of presentation that consumers often associate with social or personal correspondence. The ASA has upheld complaints about campaigns that featured “handwritten” text on envelopes because the approach could mislead as to the nature of the communication (Lloyds TSB Bank plc, 25 October 2006, SpicerHaart Group Ltd t/a Haart, 9 December 2009). Complaints against a mock birthday card, from a charity, that was sent in an envelope with a “handwritten” typeface and a stamp were also upheld (NSPCC, 1 March 2006).

Envelopes containing marcoms should not mislead by implying they are official correspondence. Claims such as "Final Reminder", "Security Tabbed Documents Enclosed" and "Penalty Notice Enclosed" are likely to mislead about the importance of an envelope’s contents. The ASA ruled against claims such as "FINAL NOTICE", "URGENT" and "PRIORITY HANDLING UPON RECEIPT" because they exaggerated the value and importance of what was on offer (Compass Global Warehousing and Delivery, 12 April 2006). The ASA investigated an envelope which featured a table with columns that were headed "COL", "CODE", "DATE" and "CONS", the text "XRAY FILMS HANDLE WITH CARE" and a box which included space for the name, date of birth and a consultant name and that it had been completed with the patient name "Ruby Walsh". The ASA ruled that the envelope did not make clear that the contents were marketing materials and that recipients may have understood from the presentation that the envelope contained some sort of official documentation (Racing UK Ltd, 16 May 2012). An envelope for a prize draw mailing which featured a coat of arms above the emboldened text, "Cash Distributions Processing Dept. Records Locator Centre" in the top left-hand corner of the envelope, which would typically contain details of the sender's return address, and on which the most prominent claim was "WRITTEN WARNING" stated above the address panel, was ruled by the ASA as likely to indicate to recipients that the mailing originated from an official source and inflated the importance of the mailing (JDM Marketing Ltd t/a Bright Life UK, 12 June 2013).

Envelopes containing marcoms should not masquerade as private commercial correspondence by including claims such as "Important: Your Policy Documents Enclosed", "Private & Confidential", "Official Notice or Official Documents Enclosed". An envelope which made the claim "Legal Compliance - Action Required" was found to breach the Code because it implied the mailing contained legal documentation which was not the case. Stating the company name on the back of the envelope was not sufficient to make the mailing identifiable as a marcom (Brady Corporation Ltd t/a Seton Ltd, 1 September 2010).

See also “Recognising Marketing Communications and Identifying Marketers

More on