Avoiding misleading imagery in ads

Aug 10th '23

Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. When assessing whether an ad is likely to mislead, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) will consider the entire ad, and the overall impression given in the ad. As well as any direct claims made, this includes the imagery used and the impression that imagery gives.


Images which give an inaccurate impression about the product consumers will receive, for example, by featuring the wrong product, including extras, or by exaggerating the quality or size of the product, are likely to mislead.


  • Do not mislead about the items customers will actually receive

Images of products must not mislead about the product(s) that customers will actually receive.


Using a picture which suggests that the product comes with certain elements, such as showing a plate of food with stew, potatoes and rice, is likely to mislead if the customer will only receive the stew, unless the ad makes it explicitly clear that the potato and rice are charged separately. Similarly, featuring images of a full toilet including pan, cistern and seat will be considered misleading if the quoted price is the cost of one part of the toilet only.


You should usually either show the item as customers will receive it, or make it explicitly clear which element(s) any stated price relates to.


  • Do not exaggerate a product’s efficacy

Marketers should ensure that any images used do not have the effect of exaggerating the capability or performance of a product.


If using pre- or post-production techniques, images should not be altered in a way which exaggerates what the product can do. For example, an ad for teeth whitening was considered misleading because the visuals created the overriding impression that teeth could be whitened instantaneously, which was not the case.


Remember, this applies to the use of filters, too. An Instagram filter used to promote tanning drops gave the appearance of a darker skin tone and a smoother complexion, leading to the ad misleadingly exaggerating the capabilities of the product.


  • Use representative gameplay

If advertising video or mobile games, the ads content should reflect the product and be representative of the gameplay.


If in-play footage is shown, it should be footage from the game advertised. If ads use graphics which are not representative of the actual gameplay, this is often likely to mislead consumer. A qualification or small print such as “Not representative of actual gameplay” is generally unlikely to prevent an ad from misleading consumers.


Source: Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP)


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