A Christmas Tale… of compliant advertising

The season of goodwill is nearly upon us and whilst it looks like Christmas is going to be slightly different this year, brands will undoubtedly still tap into the festive season with their campaigns. With that in mind, we have put together some advice to help ensure your ads are the right side of the line in terms of misleadingness, offence and responsibility – and keep you off the ASA’s ‘Naughty List’.

All I want for Christmas…is all the information…

Pre- and post-Christmas sales have become a staple part of the festive season and you must ensure that all your offers are administered fairly and presented clearly, with all significant T&Cs outlined in the ad. For more detail on promotional marketing specifically see our Advice Online guidance and the Code Rules in this area.

It is also likely that consumers will be doing a lot of their Christmas shopping online this year so please take care when making delivery claims in your ads. Marketers should anticipate delays and disruptions when making delivery-time claims, especially when consumers are likely to be expecting packages in time for Christmas.  Ads must also make clear any applicable delivery charges.

Have yourself an inoffensive Christmas…

The ASA tends to receive a large number of complaints challenging whether ads are likely to cause serious or widespread offence during the Christmas period, and many of these complaints are on the grounds of religion or beliefs.  There is nothing specific in the Codes that prevents advertisers from using references to religion to promote their products and services, provided this doesn’t cause serious or widespread offence.  However, for many families Christmas is a time that holds religious significance and it’s therefore important to take care not to trivialise or belittle people’s faith and beliefs.

A Mulberry ad that portrayed a Nativity scene but replaced the baby Jesus with a handbag was deemed to be offensive by several complainants, however the ASA considered it was a light-hearted reference to consumerism rather than ridiculing the Nativity story or mocking or denigrating the Christian faith.  On the other hand, in 2016 the ASA upheld a complaint against an ad that was sent round during the Easter period which portrayed an image of the crucifixion, because it was judged to cause serious offence for mocking particularly sacred imagery. 

Step into [a responsible] Christmas…

Whether it’s a glass of mulled wine, a flute of fizz or a cup of eggnog, advertisers must always take extra care when marketing alcoholic products to ensure their ads are not likely to encourage or condone irresponsible or excessive drinking.  In 2018 the ASA ruled that Epic Pub Company’s Christmas-time “barrow of booze” promotion was irresponsible because the ‘barrow’ constituted of up to 14 units of alcohol per person - well in excess of official recommended guidelines.

It is worth noting that simply associating alcohol with the Christmas season is unlikely to be a problem, nor is advertising a variety of drinks (like in a hamper) always likely to be seen as encouraging excessive consumption – the key is presentation.


For further guidance, see our AdviceOnline entries and if you need bespoke advice on your non-broadcast ads then our Copy Advice team are here to help.

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