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.
Code rule 4.1 states that marketing communications must not contain anything that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence, and states that particular care must be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of: age; disability; gender; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; and sexual orientation. Whilst the Codes do not require advertisers to ensure that ads are demographically representative, the ASA will consider whether the depiction of age in ads is likely to cause serious or widespread offence, and advertisers should take particular care to ensure that this is not the case.
Do not cause serious or widespread offence
The ASA receives very few complaints about the depiction of age in advertising. There are, therefore, a limited number of rulings which demonstrate how the ASA have applied this Code rule in practice.
Nonetheless, the ASA’s application of Code rule 4.1 more widely demonstrates that ads which mock, humiliate or degrade older people, or reinforce offensive stereotypes, are likely to be considered problematic, and advertisers should carefully consider the language and imagery used in their advertising. Ads which make offensive generalisations about older people being senile, pitiable, or incapable of carrying out certain tasks, for example, are likely to be considered problematic.
Suggesting that certain activities are inappropriate or socially unacceptable for older people is also likely to be considered problematic. In 2014 the ASA received complaints about a poster which featured an older white woman sitting on a sofa alongside a younger black man, which challenged whether the ad was offensive on the grounds of race and age by implying that an interracial and intergenerational relationship was socially unacceptable. In the ad, the man had his arms around the woman, who held an electronic cigarette and was looking directly at the camera. Text alongside the image stated "NO TOBACCO. NO TABOO". The ASA considered that consumers would believe that the ad was presenting a relationship between an older woman and younger man, and a couple of different races, as something that was unusual or socially unacceptable, and therefore concluded that the ad was likely to cause serious or widespread offence on the grounds of race and age (Nicofresh Ltd, 6 August 2014).
Take care with the use of Humour
Advertisers should be aware that the ASA will consider how viewers are likely to interpret the ad, rather than the advertiser’s intention. Light-hearted depictions may sometimes be acceptable, providing they are not likely to cause serious, or widespread offence; however, using humour does not prevent an ad from being likely to cause offence, and humour which is derived from age may often be considered offensive.
Advertisers should avoid making jokes about older people using offensive clichés like ‘dinosaur’ or ‘over the hill’.