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 contains specific rules on marketing communications for motoring. For example marketing communications for motor vehicles, fuel or accessories should avoid portraying or referring to practices that encourage or condone anti-social behaviour or unsafe or irresponsible driving (Rule 19.1 and 19.2); (Jaguar Land Rover Ltd, 16 July 2014).
The rule that car marketers most frequently breach is 19.4, which states that, whilst marketing communications may give general information about a vehicle's performance such as acceleration and mid-range statistics, braking power, road holding and top speed, marketers must not make speed or acceleration claims the main message of their marketing communications (BMW (UK) Ltd t/a MINI UK, 18 December 2013).
Different components of the marketing communication often need to be taken into account: the headline, visual or body copy can all singly or in combination cause problems. Sometimes an ambiguous or questionable headline can be redeemed by a visual of a stationary car or moderate copy claims. An ad for the Fiat 500 TwinAir was headlined "Try a whole new kind of speed dating", and went on to refer to taking a girl on a date before giving general information about the car. As the main message of the ad was related to ‘speed dating’ rather than speed itself and the copy went on to discuss different aspects of the car, the ASA considered that speed was not the main message of the ad and did not uphold complaints (Fiat Group Automobiles UK Ltd, 23 November 2011).
A headline in itself, e.g. ‘Disappears quicker than a dot.com company’, can make speed the main message of a marketing communication and marketers should not rely on humour or less-obvious interpretations of the line to justify the approach (Hyundai Car (UK) Ltd, 19 September 2001). Marketers are also unlikely to get away with approaches that combine blurred images (whether background, the vehicle itself or its wheels) and claims such as ‘Suddenly weekends are a blur again’ ‘Now you see it now you don’t’ and ‘Horizontal bungee jumping’ as these are likely to result in speed being the predominant message (Jaguar Cars, February 2000; Peugeot Motor Company, Oct 1999; Mercedes-Benz (UK) Ltd, Sept 1999). Claims like “Shortens straights. Straightens corners”, in the absence of any other text, are likely to be problematic even when combined with an image of a stationary car, as speed and acceleration are the only messages in the ad (General Motors UK Ltd t/a Vauxhall, 13 March 2013).
An ad for the Toyota GT86 was set in an animated virtual world in which a male character described not being real and how he had no feeling until he drove the GT86. The car was shown being driven at speed, being followed by a police helicopter and being chased through narrow virtual streets. The car was then shown bursting through a glass barrier onto a real road. The ASA considered that the car was shown driving in a virtual world, but also considered that the world was sufficiently similar to reality to be easily recognisable. As the vehicle was shown driving in a manner that would be dangerous and irresponsible in the real world the ad was problematic (Toyota (GB) PLC, 14 November 2012). Marketers should not therefore focus on speed, or on a style of driving that is anti-social or potentially dangerous, and blurred images should be used only if they are unlikely to result in speed being the predominant message of the marketing communication when judged as a whole. Marketers may need to take particular care when shooting cinema commercials or ads for electronic media in particular, as moving images can make the impression of speed more striking (Rule 19.3).
Marketing communications should not encourage motorists to drive irresponsibly or break the law (Rule 19.3); (Jaguar Land Rover Ltd, 25 June 2014) or depict vehicles in dangerous or unwise situations in a way that might encourage irresponsible driving (Rule 19.2).
Marketers whose cars have a racing heritage should be particularly careful not to compare driving on race tracks to driving on roads as this might encourage some drivers to drive irresponsibly (Vauxhall Motors, Jan 1999 and Nissan Motors (GB) Ltd, Sept 1997).
Safety claims should not be exaggerated (Rule 19.5) and marketers making environmental claims should see Section 11 of the CAP Code for the rules that relate to this.