Safety: advertising guidance

Nov 20th '13

Marketing communications, especially those addressed to or depicting a child, must not condone or encourage an unsafe practice.


Showing dangerous or unsafe practices could be acceptable if the marcom does not condone them or if most people are likely to understand that the situation depicted should not be imitated; humour can often help render such an approach acceptable. In 2006, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) considered complaints that a 118 118 ad showing a man injured on a mountain and asking the operator to put him through to the Air Ambulance service was irresponsible, because it implied that calling 118 118 was the correct way to contact the emergency services. The ASA acknowledged that the rescue story was humorous and was unlikely to be interpreted literally and concluded that the ad was not irresponsible (The Number UK Ltd t/a 118 118, 26 September 2007). A poster for Vittel Water was accused of encouraging people to kick an empty water bottle towards the faces of others but was considered light-hearted and unlikely to encourage unsafe practices (Nestlé UK Ltd, 4 October 2006).


Rule 4.6 specifically refers to the dangers associated with drinking and driving. As well as not encouraging consumers to drink and drive, marketers should neither encourage motorists to drive irresponsibly or break the law nor depict vehicles in dangerous or unwise situations in a way that might encourage irresponsible driving. Marketers should also not make speed or acceleration claims the predominant message of their marketing communications (Rule 19.4). In 2013, the ASA upheld a complaint against a Vauxhall Astra ad that stated “Shortens Straights. Straightens Corners”. It considered the claim “Shortens Straights” would be interpreted to mean that the car made straight stretches of road shorter by covering them more quickly, thereby making speed the main message and condoning irresponsible driving (General Motors UK Ltd, 13 March 2013).


Special care should be taken with marketing communications addressed to or depicting children or young people (Rule 4.5 and Section 5). In 2011 the ASA upheld a complainant about an ad which showed two children playing with a fire station themed tent. The picture included a real fire that one child was pretending to extinguish. Because children’s safety was potentially at risk if the images were emulated, it concluded that the ad breached the Code (The Win Green Trading Company Ltd, 20 July 2011). Marketers should be aware that the ASA has upheld complaints despite a bartnote telling children not to copy the behaviour shown (Britvic Soft Drinks Ltd, t/a Robinsons, 26 Sept 2002).


Even if they are not addressed to children, marcoms that show dangerous practices capable of emulation should be restricted to media that will be seen only by adults. In late October 2012 the ASA upheld a complaint about a fashion ad featuring models holding lit fireworks. Although the campaign was targeted at men and women over the age of 20 years and did not appear in any media targeted at children, the ASA noted that it was not possible to prevent some children and young people from seeing the ad. Given the potential for easy emulation, especially at that time of year, it concluded that the ad condoned and encouraged an unsafe practice (Levi Strauss & Co, 1 February 2012).


Products that require users to wear protective equipment might need to depict that requirement in their ads. In 2007, a magazine ad for a hedge trimmer featured a woman cutting her hedge without wearing protective equipment. The ASA considered that, by featuring the woman without protective equipment, the ad suggested that it was safe to use the hedge trimmer in that way and concluded that the image in the ad could therefore encourage irresponsible use of the product (Farm & Garden Machinery Ltd, 29 November 2006). But complaints about a cinema ad for WKD showing men using a drill without wearing eye protection were not upheld on the grounds that no drilling into a surface took place in the ad and therefore showing the men without eye protection would not encourage unsafe practice (Beverage Brands (UK) Ltd, 30 May 2007).


Promoters should ensure that their promotions, including product samples and adventurous activities, are safe, especially for children (Rules 8.3 and 8.8). The ASA has received complaints about medicines, sharp instruments and other gimmicks that could have caused harm, especially if children got hold of them.


Some products, for example radar detectors, are legal to sell but might be used in illegal acts such as irresponsible driving. Marketers can advertise radar detectors as a way of promoting safe driving but should avoid giving the impression that they can enable the driver to break the law without detection (Blackspot Interactive Ltd, 19 December 2007).


The London Fire Brigade has expressed concern about the use of candles in marketing communications that show them close to flammable furniture; marketers should take care not to encourage such use or to imply candles have, or will be, left unattended.


Source: Committee of Advertising Practice (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 Advice Online entries provide guidance on interpreting the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.


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