A lot of companies are well aware of the potential value and power of user-generated content (UGC) to help extol the virtues of a brand, product or service. However, adopting and incorporating that UGC into their marketing communications means that the CAP Code will apply in full. Read on to find what’s in and what’s out when it comes to UGC.

What is it?

User-generated content (UGC) is content, such as social media posts, tweets, photos, reviews and blogs/vlogs, created by private individuals and published on a website or on social media.

When does the Code apply?

The scope of the CAP Code covers marketing communications by or from companies, organisations or sole traders on their own websites, or in other non-paid-for space online under their control. Consequently, unprompted UGC, where a customer initiates the communication by tweeting to your handle or posting to your timeline, is outside the remit of the CAP Code (N5 Ltd).

There are instances, however, in which the ASA considers that UGC is “by or from companies, organisations or sole traders” and is therefore subject to the CAP Code. Most commonly this will occur when content is “adopted and incorporated” into a marketer’s own marketing communications. For example, if the marketer requests content from users and then places that content on their social media channel (Aston Manor Brewery Company Ltd). But, “adopting and incorporating” can also include retweeting (192.com Ltd), commenting on, or even simply “liking” a user’s post.

Marketers should not seek to use UGC as a method of circumnavigating responsibility under the CAP Code. If a marketer posts on social media and solicits content that is likely to breach the CAP Code, the ASA is likely to consider the resulting UGC within its remit, for example, a car manufacturer requesting that users share content about a time they drove too fast.

Where UGC is within remit, the CAP Code applies in full and marketers will need to make sure that the content is responsible and not misleading, harmful or offensive. So, if the UGC contains an efficacy claim, the substantiation rules will apply (Ionic Balance), or if it relates to alcohol, the alcohol rules will apply (Hi Spirits).

What about reasonable moderation?

Marketers should note that the above does not prevent them from implementing a reasonable moderation policy (N5 Ltd). However, where a moderation policy has the effect of curating UGC to remove any content which is negative for the marketer, the ASA is likely to consider that the UGC has been “adopted and incorporated”. For example, if a marketer’s website allows users to submit ratings and reviews, but only publishes positive reviews, it is likely the ASA would regard this as excessive moderation and those reviews would be subject to the CAP Code.

By Victoria Bugler, Compliance Executive


Victoria studied European Business Studies and French at the University of Ulster and completed her Postgraduate in Law at the College of Law in Guildford. Victoria joined the ASA in 2005 as an Investigations Executive and moved to the Compliance team in 2009. The Compliance team ensure that ASA decisions are adhered to using a variety of approaches including swiftly acting to remedy non-compliant ads, co-ordinating sanctions, undertaking media and issue-specific project work and effectively monitoring of ads across all media.

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