Don't be a code breaker

LONDON - The latest set of advertising rules have far-reaching implications for marketers.

Veteran marketer Andrew Marsden believes the new set of codes governing advertising that were unveiled this week represent the most important changes in a decade.

'Every single marketing person and every agency in the UK has got to get a copy of this and become intimate with it as soon as possible,' says the former Britvic marketing chief, who oversaw the overhaul of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) codes.

More than 30,000 responses were received as part of the public consultation last year on the three-year root-and-branch review, the aim of which is to make the rules clearer and more consistent.

Brands and their agencies will need to set aside some serious reading time before the changes come into force in September. Below we outline some of the interesting changes.

Social responsibility

The previous advertising codes were always based on the enduring principles that all ads should be legal, decent, honest and truthful. However, by some quirk, only the non-broadcast code had a social responsibility clause. This loophole has now been closed.

While cynics may view this as merely a PR exercise, it does provide the Advertising Standards Authority Council with a 'catch-all' to ban ads that, while within the letter of the law, go against its spirit.


Whether it be Shelter and Crisis or the RSPCA and WWF, there are a number of charities operating with similar missions. The updated codes provide charities with a way to differentiate, with the end to a bar on running comparative advertising.

Charities will now be able to roll out campaigns that highlight the proportion of their donations that directly help the cause in comparison to a rival, which may - for example - have higher administrative costs.

While it seems a rather ignoble form of marketing for charities to undertake, Marsden says that the sector itself was active in calling for it.


Car marketers will find the rules governing their sector have been significantly tightened. The previous code stated simply that 'ads must not refer to speeds over 70mph', but the new rules go much further.

Now motoring ads must not 'refer to speed in a way that might condone or encourage dangerous, competitive, inconsiderate or irresponsible driving or motorcycling'.

Factual statements about a vehicle's speed or acceleration are permitted but must not be presented as a reason for opting to buy the advertised vehicle.

For example, an interactive online ad run by Mini in 2007, which encouraged users to 'floor it' and was subsequently banned, would not even make it onto a storyboard under the new codes.


According to Marsden, changes to the rules on environmental claims are as far-reaching as those introduced for alcohol five years ago.

Claims such as that in Credit Agricole's ad, which depicts the financial-services company as an exemplar of 'green banking', must be supported by what the code terms a 'high level of substantiation'.

Comparative ads must show that the product/service provides an enhanced environmental benefit over one of its own or a competitor's product/service.

Video games

That the current TV code imposes scheduling restrictions of 18-certificate film and 'videos' is a clear indicator of how far it has fallen behind the times.

To address the proliferation of violent video games, the overhauled broadcast code imposes TV and radio scheduling restrictions on ads for age-restricted games around programmes made for, or likely to appeal to, children.

This comes as a direct response to recommendations from psychologist Tanya Byron's review two years ago, which examined how the internet and video games affect children.

30,000 number of submissions received as part of the CAP code consultation.


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