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.

There are a number of different types of ads that can appear on social media, from the posts on a brand’s own feed to ‘affiliate’ or ‘advertorial’ posts that have been published by an influencer.  This advice article focuses on the former, as well as paid-ads on social media.  For the latter see ‘Recognising ads: Social media and influencer marketing’.

The overarching requirement in Section 2 of the CAP Code is that all advertising needs to be ‘obviously identifiable’. This means that when a consumer sees an ad, it should be obvious to them that they’re looking at an ad. This guidance explains how the rules apply to posts on brand-owned social media and paid social ads.


Make sure you know when you’re advertising

First of all, it’s important to have a clear understanding of when content posted on social media counts as ‘advertising'. If it falls within the ASA’s remit, the CAP Code in its entirety will apply, and there are many different rules that could apply depending on the types of claims in the post, and on the product being advertised.

See our guidance on ‘Remit: Social media’, ‘Remit: Own websites’, ‘Remit: Advertisement features’ and ‘Remit: General’ for more on how to establish whether a post is covered by the ASA and the CAP Code.


Ensure that brand ads and paid-ads are clear

When businesses or brands post about their own products or services on their own social media accounts, and they are identifiable as the publisher (i.e. their brand username is displayed in the post), consumers are usually likely to recognise that the post is an ad for the brand. In that case a label, such as “Ad”, is unlikely to be necessary.

However, if it is not immediately clear that a social media channel is ‘brand-owned’ – for example, because it uses a different ‘username’ that consumers are unlikely to link with the brand – then it is likely that the ASA will expect the marketer to make clear that the content is advertising by some other means (Procter & Gamble (Health & Beauty Care) Ltd t/a Beauty Recommended, 27 May 2015).

Influencers must also make sure it’s clear when they’re posting about their own products / services; e.g. products they sell and events they’re running etc., or any prize draws or giveaways they do (the latter are considered ‘promotional marketing’ and the influencer would be a ‘promoter’).  If it’s not immediately clear that the influencer is posting about their own product(s) or those that they’ve collaborated in the creation of, the ASA is likely to expect relevant posts to, at a minimum, include a prominent label – such as ‘#Ad’ – upfront (Zoe de Pass t/a Dress Like A Mum (DLAM), 20 November 2019; Unleashed PR Ltd t/a I Spy Eyes in association with Marnie Simpson, 25 October 2017).

When it comes to ‘paid-for’ advertising on social media websites and apps, such as ‘Promoted’ tweets on Twitter, ‘Promoted’ posts on Reddit, ‘Promoted’ pins on Pinterest, ‘Sponsored’ posts on Facebook and Instagram, and the ‘Sponsored’ stories (and adverts that appear within other stories) on Snapchat, these are usually obviously identifiable as such through their positioning, labelling and wider context. Each social media channel has its own conventions for displaying advertising which, arguably, becomes quickly recognisable to users.

That said, rule 2.3 states that ads must make their commercial intent clear to consumers, so even ‘Promoted’ or ‘Sponsored’ posts could breach the rules if they misleadingly imply that they’ve been placed by someone other than the advertiser.  For example, if a third party website publishes an affiliate article about a brand’s products, and the third party also pays for a ‘Promoted’ post to direct consumers to that article, this post should make clear that the article itself is an advertisement feature rather than a piece of independent editorial.


Remember that the rest of the Code applies

If something falls within the ASA’s remit, it has to comply with the Code in its entirety.  It therefore should not, amongst other things, materially mislead consumers or cause serious or widespread offence.

Some sections within the CAP Code are sector-specific, which means that ads for particular product types (e.g. Foods, Alcohol, Gambling) must comply with very specific rules, whereas other parts of the Code (e.g. Misleading Advertising, Harm and Offence) apply to all ads irrespective of the product/service they are advertising.

See also “Recognising ads: Overview”, “Remit: Social media”, “Remit: Advertisement Features”, “Online Affiliate Marketing”, "Recognising ads: Advertisement features". "Recognising ads: Newspapers and magazines". "Recognising ads: Social media and influencer marketing”, “Recognising ads: Brand-owned and paid social media”, “Recognising ads: Blogs and vlogs” and "Recognising ads: Native advertising".

The CAP Advertising Guidance notes on ‘Advertisement features’ and ‘Recognition of advertising: online marketing to children under 12’, as well as the ‘Influencers’ guide to making clear that ads are ads’, also provide further guidance.

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