Books and publications

Nov 28th '22

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code does not apply to the content of books or any other “editorial content”.  But it does apply to ads for books, and ads that quote or describe their content.  This advice article explains how the Code applies to ads that refer to books and other publications.


The article covers the following topics:


  1. Objective claims in ads for books
  2. Using books to substantiate claims
  3. Downloadable online content
  4. Social media ads for books
  5. Harm and offence


  • Objective claims in ads for books

Marketers of publications should ensure that claims about the content of publications comply with the Code. The Code contains only one rule that relates specifically to publications, in Section 3 (Misleading advertising):


3.8    Claims for the content of non-fiction publications should not exaggerate the value, accuracy, scientific validity or practical usefulness of the product. Marketers must ensure that claims that have not been independently substantiated but are based merely on the content of a publication do not mislead consumers.


CAP has published a Help Note on the Marketing of Publications.


Ads for books are permitted to describe what those books are about. But the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) holds objective claims in those ads to the same standards as other objective claims.


The CAP Code is likely to apply to claims that appear in ‘Product Description’ and ‘Author Bio’ sections of ads for books.


In 2013 the ASA ruled that the “about the author” copy on an Amazon product page was irresponsible (Amazon EU Sarl, 10 July 2013). This text described the author’s views on the dangers of vaccines and the benefits of having measles. Though it described the author’s views accurately, the ASA ruled that it could discourage essential medical treatment.


Claims that appear in product titles may be exempt from this requirement if:


  • it’s clear that they are presented as the name of the product,
  • they are followed by the author’s name, and
  • the claims are not repeated or reinforced elsewhere in the ad.


See our advice on Claims in product names.


  • Using books to substantiate claims

The ASA requires advertisers to support their claims with robust evidence and methodologies. And the fact that claims appeared in a book is no guarantee that the ASA will consider them reliable.


When the ASA investigated claims about a therapy called cryotherapy, the advertisers submitted extracts from a book as supporting evidence (Cryojuvenate UK Ltd, 18 April 2018).


The ASA assessed this material, but concluded that it didn’t support the advertisers’ claims, which would have needed to be supported by randomised controlled clinical studies.


See our advice on Substantiation, and the CAP Guidance on the level of substantiation expected in health, beauty and slimming claims.


  • Downloadable online content

The content of downloadable books, comics and audio books can sometimes count as ads.  This is if their content is directly connected to products or services that the advertisers offer. If so, they would fit the following definition from the Scope of the Code:


I     The Code applies to:

  1.   Advertisements and other 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, that are directly connected with the supply or transfer of goods, services, opportunities and gifts, or which consist of direct solicitations of donations as part of their own fund-raising activities.


The ASA investigated complaints about a downloadable storybook, which was produced by Cadbury (Mondelez UK Ltd, 04 July 2018). It included images of Easter eggs and contained a branded message from Cadbury.


The ASA considered that it counted as an ad because it contained Cadbury branding and the eggs were recognisable as Cadbury products.


The ASA also investigated a downloadable comic book and audio book featuring “Freddo the Frog”, which were published by the manufacturer of Freddo chocolate bars (Mondelez UK Ltd, 06 March 2019).


In both cases, the ads breached the Code because they promoted products that were ‘high in fat, salt or sugar’ (HFSS), and had the effect of promoting these products to children.


See advice on HFSS: Product and Brand Advertising.


  • Social media ads for books

When people refer to their own books in social media posts, these posts are likely to count as ads. This is because they have a commercial interest in selling the book they’ve referred to.


When Mylene Klass published an Instagram reel that showed images of her book, the ASA investigated complaints that it wasn’t obviously identifiable as an ad (Myleene Klass, 02 November 2022).


Because the video didn’t contain a label that made this clear, and opened with shots of various celebrities answering questions, the ASA ruled that the ad didn’t make this adequately clear.


See our advice on Remit: social media and Recognising ads: Social media and influencer marketing.


  • Harm and offence

If an ad refers to something from a book, consumers may not recognise the reference and could interpret claims in unintended ways.  Advertisers should consider how people who aren’t familiar with the book could interpret these references.


The ASA investigated an ad that said “YOU DO THE GIRL BOSS THING. WE’LL DO THE SEO THING” (PeoplePerHour, 08 January 2020). Complainants believed that it depicting a woman running a business in a patronising way, and perpetuated harmful gender stereotypes. The advertisers stated that the term “girl boss” was a reference to a popular book about a female entrepreneur, and was not intended to be patronising or reductive.  But the ASA considered that many people who saw the ad would not be familiar with the reference, and would take it to mean that a female “boss” was an exception to the norm. Because of this, they concluded that the ad reinforced harmful gender stereotypes.


See our advice on Harm and offence: Gender stereotypes.


Source: CAP


Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the ASA. CAP’s AdviceOnline entries provide guidance on interpreting the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.


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