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 CAP Code states that marketers must not unfairly portray or refer to anyone in an adverse or offensive way without their permission. Marketers are urged to obtain written permission before generally referring to people whether members of the public or those with a public profile.

The CAP Code does not explicitly comment on the use of lookalikes and impersonators. We would advise that the use of impersonators is likely to be acceptable provided it does not cause the individuals to be referred to in an adverse or offensive way or mislead by implying an endorsement which does not exist (see ‘Testimonials and endorsements’).

The ASA has received complaints regarding the use of impersonators or caricatures in ads but has been able to ascertain that permission was sought without need for a full investigation, or has deemed that the portrayal was not offensive, adverse or misleading. Matters the ASA has resolved without full investigation include complaints regarding lookalikes, soundalikes, and cartoons of celebrities (featured alone or in incongruous combinations).

Back in 1996, the ASA upheld a complaint after a marketer used an actor dressed like Eric Cantona to convey a notorious incident when Cantona karate kicked a fan. The ASA considered that, whether or not the photo was of Cantona was immaterial; the image was clearly intended to represent him. Although the reference did not imply an endorsement of the product, the advertiser had not sought permission from Cantona to portray him in this way. The ASA upheld the complaint. It also considered the portrayal of the incident could be seen as condoning anti-social behaviour (Molson Scottish Courage Ltd, 16 December 1996).

Cheeky or obviously humorous uses of lookalikes that are unlikely to confuse readers about endorsement and are not derogatory to the original celebrity are likely to acceptable. Nevertheless, marketers should seek legal advice if they are in any doubt about using impersonators or lookalikes.

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