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 does not contain a section that relates specifically to the advertising of weapons or for ads that contain images of weapons. However, marketers should nevertheless ensure that their marketing communications are prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society (Rule 1.3). Marketers should bear in mind rules 1.10 (legality), 4.1 (offence), 4.2 (fear and distress) and 4.5 (safety) and ensure that the sale of a weapon is legal.
CAP understands that the Violent Crime Reduction Act, which came into force on 1 October 2007, makes it an offence to sell knives to persons under 18 (unless it has a folding blade 3 inches long (7.62 cm) or less). Media owners should carefully consider all ads for any type of knife or other potentially offensive weapon (such as catapults) before deciding whether to accept them.
In April 2000, the ASA upheld complaints about a promotion that offered a Jack Daniels outdoor knife to every reader of the Daily Sport newspaper. It considered that offering a knife in that way was irresponsible, especially because the promoter had not restricted the age of those who could respond (Fat Boy Corporation Ltd, April 2000). Conversely, in 2004, the ASA rejected complaints about a promotion that offered an “army” knife as a free gift. Because the offer was couched in terms of using the knife for DIY or leisure activities, the ASA believed the promotion was acceptable.
Even marketers advertising replica weapons can generate complaints. An ad, for film memorabilia, that featured Buffy the Vampire Slayer holding a knife over her head was accused of being irresponsible and glamorizing weapons. The ASA considered that the ad clearly used a fictional character and did not breach the Code (Pegasus Militaria, 9 March 2005).
The Crossbows Act 1987 stipulates that crossbows should not be sold or hired to a person under the age of 18. Any ads for crossbows should therefore contain a prominent statement making clear that purchasers must be 18 or over and marketers should ensure they do not sell crossbows to those who are underage. Again, the content, context and media placement of ads should be socially responsible and not condone anti-social behaviour.
Potentially dangerous items should not generally be used as promotional items (Easter Development Group Ltd, July 2000). Here, the advertiser decided to send a 62cm long, sharp, metal-tipped arrow as a direct mailing to certain businesses to promote a new commercial development. The ASA upheld a complaint that the direct mailing was dangerous and irresponsible.
Certain knives and martial arts weaponry are designated as offensive weapons under Section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and should not, therefore, be advertised. They include: Belt Buckle Knife, Blowpipe, Butterfly Knife, Death Star (a.k.a Shuriken or Shaken), Footclaw, Handclaw, Hollow Kobutan, Knuckleduster, Kusari Gama, Kyoketsu Shoge, Manrikigusari or Kusari, Push Dagger, Swordsticks and Telescopic Truncheons.
Under the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959, to manufacture, sell or import flick-knives or gravity knives is an offence.
Marketers often have more latitude if the depiction of violence or weapons reflects the nature of the product being advertised, for example computer games or films. TV drama ads that showed a woman with a large knife in her hand were deemed not to have breached the Code, not least because the images reflected the content of the programme (ITV, 3 May 2006). However content that could be seen as glamorising knife use is likely to be considered irresponsible. In 2010 the ASA upheld a complaint about an internet ad on Facebook, for an online game, featuring a photo of a hooded man holding a large knife in front of him. Text stated "From Street Thug to Capo. Earn your street cred and be respected. Advance from gangster to head boss in Mafia Wars. Play now" (Zynga Game Network Inc, 14 July 2010).