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.


All marketing communications should be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and society (Rule 1.3). Marketers should not use approaches that are likely to encourage socially irresponsible behaviour.

Social responsibility covers many things; special care should be taken in these sectors:

1 alcohol – excessive and unwise styles of drinking should not be encouraged; marketing communications should not be directed at under 18s, particular appeal to them or encourage immoderate drinking or other unwise or anti-social behaviour; the alcoholic strength of a product should not be the dominant theme (Section 18 and the "alcohol" entry);

2 motoring – speed and acceleration claims should not be the predominant message; marketers should not encourage motorists to drive irresponsibly or break the law (Section 19 and the "Motoring" entry);

3 health – marketers should not make claims that might lead consumers to misdiagnose minor ailments; marketers should not discourage essential treatment of serious or prolonged ailments (Rules 12.5 and 12.2);

4 weight control – marketers should not target under 18s; claims that individuals have lost exact amounts of weight should be compatible with good medical and nutritional practice (Rules 13.3 and 13.10 and see "Slimming and weight control" entry);

5 children – marketing communications addressed to or featuring children should contain nothing that is likely to result in their physical, mental or moral harm and should not exploit their credulity, loyalty, vulnerability or lack of experience (Section 5 and the "Children" entry).

The ASA has upheld complaints about social responsibility against a diverse range of marketing communications. Some decisions centred on unsafe, irresponsible or illegal acts being depicted, condoned or encouraged (Channel Four Corporation, 21 February 2001; Channel 5, August 1999, and Paddy Power, 6 June 2001). In 2007, the ASA upheld complaints that two fashion ads, which appeared in the national press, were irresponsible and offensive because they glamorised violence (Dolce & Gabbana, 10 January 2007). One ad showed two men with knives threatening a third man sitting on a chair while a fourth man was lying on the floor with a wound to his forehead. The other ad featured two men supporting a woman who was holding a knife and had a wound in her chest. The ads generated over 200 complaints, some of which cited a recent knife amnesty as the reason for the ads’ unacceptability. Although the ads were stylised and theatrical, the ASA upheld the complaints that the ads glorified knife-related violence, were socially irresponsible and were offensive.

Other marketing communications have been judged to be socially irresponsible because they made claims that were based on inadequate evidence or encouraged certain behaviour on the basis of inadequate evidence (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 5 September 2001; Vegetarian Society, December 1997). Marketing communications that cause serious or widespread offence are also sometimes judged to be socially irresponsible (French Connection Group, 4 April 2001).

Marketers should bear in mind that they could be made to pre-vet all posters for two years if they publish an offensive or socially irresponsible poster.

Also see entries on ''Alcohol'', ''Motoring'', ''Children'', ''Substantiation'' ''Drugs'' and ''Safety''.


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