If it matters, make sure it’s included

It might sound obvious, but ads need to include all the information a consumer needs in order to decide whether or not to respond to it. This response could be deciding to purchase the advertised product, entering a competition or participating in a promotion, or simply clicking for more information.

Material information

One of the main principles of the Code is that ads should not materially mislead.  Indeed, rule 3.3 spells out that ads can mislead as much by what they leave out as what they include:  Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner. 

This applies across the board – it can relate to pricing, promotions, the environment, telecoms, travel marketing.  If it’s an ad, leaving something out – deliberately or otherwise - can confuse or mislead consumers. Travel ads, for example for flights, ferry crossings or holidays often include a prominent headline starting price “From £199…”.  Restrictions and limitations might mean that this price is only available in certain circumstances.  If consumers can only get the advertised price if they travel on a Monday or Tuesday, or if they bring the family along, this needs to be clear to them before they respond to the ad.

Environmental claims

When ads refer to complex or controversial issues, like the environment, consumers might need a lot of detail to help them assess the information in the ad.   CAP Code rule 11.1 states that “unqualified claims could mislead if they omit significant information.”  Some advertisers have been criticised by the ASA for leaving out details of their brands’ negative environmental impact, leaving a partial and biased picture of their positive projects.

Recently, the ASA has ruled against ads like this, from airlines not making clear the degree of their environmental impact when making claims about their future intentions,  and from banks not spelling out clearly enough  the level of their investments in polluting industries.  Earlier this year the ASA investigated three ads that claimed “zero emissions” for the advertised cars, ruling that, because they omitted material information about the emissions generated through the whole life cycle of the advertised vehicles, all three ads were likely to mislead.

Our guidance on misleading environmental claims will help you ensure that the context of any environmental claims is always clear, and that ads don’t mislead by omission.

Promotional marketing

Terms and conditions that might affect whether a consumer chooses to take part in a promotion are ‘significant conditions’; leaving them out is likely to mean that the promotion is materially misleading.  CAP Code rule 8.17 lists the conditions that are significant, if they apply.  These will almost always include a clear explanation of how to participate, a closing date, the nature and number of prizes or gifts, any restrictions on who can participate, and availability

However, this might not cover everything, and promotors should always consider if there are any unusual entry requirements or particular instructions on claiming the prize. The ASA ruled against this drinks company because it did not specify a closing date and participants could not have known when the promotional draw would take place.

Promotions often feature on packaging or social media posts and promotors sometimes argue that such media are so limited by space and / or time, that it is impossible for them to include all significant information.  As an alternative, the promotion might include a signpost, or even a link to the full terms and conditions.  Recent ASA rulings have made clear that this is often not enough.

As always, there’s lots of advice  on our website, and you can get free and confidential advice on your non-broadcast campaigns by contacting the CAP Copy Advice team.

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