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 has traditionally applied to ‘advertising virals’ - non-broadcast marketing messages designed to stimulate significant circulation and generate commercial or reputational benefit to an advertiser from the consequential publicity. They are usually put into circulation by an advertiser with a request, either explicit or implicit, that the message be forwarded to others and often include video clips or links to websites.

The ASA has ruled on a number of advertising virals including; an online video for a football tournament featuring a hamster in a run-around ball that was being kicked like a football, e-mails that contained descriptions and video clips of torture intended to promote a computer game and an online video showing two men fighting and ending with one of the men being decapitated (Powerleague, 31 August 2005; Vivendi Universal Games, 17 August 2005; Midway Games, 21 June 2005).

‘Advertising virals’ often push the boundaries and include content that would not usually form part of a mainstream marketing campaign. It is therefore worth remembering that because they are designed and intended to be shared, ‘virals’ can potentially be seen by anyone and claiming that a viral was only meant to be seen by a carefully selected audience is unlikely to be considered a justification for including content that could harm or offend.

Since the ASA’s remit was extended to include advertising on a company’s own website or in other non-paid-for space online under their control, the definition of an ‘advertising viral’ has had less significance, primarily because the majority of the content is now explicitly covered by the CAP Code in any event (See ‘Remit: Own websites’ and ‘Remit: Social media’). As an example, a website headed “STOP the BROADBAND CON!” that included mechanisms to sign a petition and share the page via social networking sites as well as a video that parodied a competitor’s advertising was considered to be within the ASA’s remit largely due to the online remit extension, although it could also have been considered within remit previously as an ‘advertising viral’ (Virgin Media, 29 June 2011).

See also ‘Remit: Own websites’, ‘Remit: Social media’ and the Advertising Guidance note ‘Virals’ for more detail on the remit position.

Updated 5 December 2016

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