When the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) assesses a complaint about an ad, they don’t look at individual claims in isolation – they assess the ad in its entirety. In some cases, the ASA has ruled that advertisers’ choice of company name or the URL for their website has been one of the factors that misled consumers and resulted in a breach of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code.
The following guidance explains how to avoid breaching these rules.
- Relevant Code rules
When ads mislead consumers because of something in the company name or URL, there are a number of different CAP Code rules they could breach.
The rules in Section 2 (Recognition of marketing communications) of the CAP Code state that advertising should be obviously identifiable as advertising. Code rule 2.3 states that the commercial intent of ads should be clear, and they’ll breach this rule if they imply (for example) that they are communications from official public bodies, or that they’re neutral comparison websites.
The rules in Section 3 (Misleading advertising) state that ads must not mislead consumers about material information. This is defined as any information that consumers need to make informed decisions about a product of brand. When the ASA investigates ads and establishes that they breached the CAP Code because of the misleading impression given by company names or the URLs, these are the rules that the ads tend to breach.
- Implied claims in company names can be materially misleading
An advertiser’s choice of company name or brand name can convey information about the brand to consumers. In some cases, the information that it conveys can be misleading, and a number of ads have breached the Code for this reason.
In one case, the ASA ruled that the brand name misled consumers about the nature of the company, and implied that it was a small local business when it was not (Ben’s Gutters Ltd, 22 December 2021).
In other cases, ads have breached the Code by implying that the advertisers were an official, government approved service (UK Deed Poll Service Ltd, 18 March 2020), an official, government-associated publication (Westminster Publications Ltd, 06 November 2019), and a regulator or consumer champion, rather than a commercial business (Energy Watchdog Ltd, 20 February 2019).
When selecting a company name or brand name, advertisers should bear in mind that any ads using this name will be subject to the Code, and so they should give an accurate impression of the business.
- Implied claims in URLs can also be misleading
Website addresses can also give consumers misleading impressions about the nature of the brand. In some cases, the ASA has ruled that a website’s choice of URL was one of a number of factors that contributed to consumers being misled about a website and the identity of the brand.
One advertiser breached the Code because the ASA ruled that the choice or URL implied that it was a pension comparison site, when in fact it was a lead generation site (Centurius Ltd, 09 October 2019). Another breached the Code because the URL misleadingly implied that the site was formally affiliated with a major brand (Elite Phones and Computers Ltd, 28 August 2019).
The ASA investigated another website that had a URL ending in “.co.uk”. The ASA ruled that this choice of URL was one of a number of features that gave consumers a misleading impression that the advertisers were based in the UK, alongside other things such as prices being listed in GBP and the website stating that the billing address was a UK address (herdress.co.uk, 24 May 2017).
Since the choice of URLs can also result in a breach of the Code, advertisers should ensure they don’t include misleading claims.
- The same rules apply to ads that quote the website’s URL
In the above cases, the ASA was assessing whether the website itself gave consumers a misleading impression, and the website URL was one of a range of contributing factors that was considered.
The ASA has also formally investigated a number of ads that stated the website URL in paid-for search results. Because the URLs were stated in these ads, they were assessed on the same basis as any other claims that appeared in the ads. In these cases, the ASA ruled that the URLs in the ads gave consumers a misleading impression about the brand.
In one case, they misleadingly implied that the publisher of the ad was affiliated with another well-known brand (Digital Accident Solutions Ltd, 14 March 2018). The ASA ruled that another URL implied that the website was the official website of a major airline brand, when in fact it was a third party travel agency (Tickets House Ltd, 06 September 2017).
Though both of these were paid-for search results, the same considerations will apply to ads in any other media that quote a URL, e.g. print, posters, digital, and social media.
- The overall impression is what counts
Since the ASA assesses ads in their entirety, the inclusion of a disclaimer isn’t necessarily enough to prevent an ad from breaching the Code if the rest of the ad gives consumers a misleading impression.
In a number of cases, the ASA has investigated ads that made misleading implied claims about the company’s identity. The ASA noted that these ads contained the genuine company name, but concluded that the inclusion of the company name was not sufficient to counteract the overall misleading impression.
One ad included the genuine company name but still breached because it gave the overall misleading impression that the ad was from British Airways (Top Travel UK Ltd, 31 January 2018). Another included the real company name but gave the overall misleading impression that it was an official notification (ACAI Marketing Ltd, 20 December 2017). And another was found to breach the Code due to the overall misleading impression that it was from a public or non-commercial organisation (Smart Pension Ltd, 13 September 2017).
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 Advice Online entries provide guidance on interpreting the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.
If you need help and guidance on your non-broadcast promotions, contact us.
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