Close-Up: Be prepared for a new era of ad rules

Shahriar Coupal brings agencies up to speed with the soon-to-be-updated UK Advertising Codes.

"Legal, decent, honest and truthful"; words, I expect, that are on the tip of every creative's tongue when they're putting their ad campaigns together. These are, of course, the general principles of the Advertising Codes - the rules that govern all UK ads. Significantly, in a little under a week, on 1 September, the new UK Advertising Codes come into effect and it is crucial that agencies are up to speed with the new requirements.

Getting to grips with the Advertising Codes might be one of the less glamorous aspects of the job, but it is important to your business. Reporting back to your client that your creative approach has prompted a public backlash, negative publicity and resulted in your ad being banned is, I imagine, less than ideal.

Advertising Standards Authority investigations are inconvenient and can be costly in terms of time, money and reputational damage. Imagine the worst-case scenario - which we know happens - that you actually lose an account because you didn't know the rules. Knowledge and understanding of the Codes can help you avoid this.

Without wanting to sound trite, another reason we recommend agencies get up to speed with the Advertising Codes is the simple fact that complying with the rules is good for the advertising industry in general. If consumers trust the ads, they see it's good for business.

From a purely functional perspective, the Advertising Codes are now more user-friendly. For example, we have created a single broadcast Code (the BCAP Code) for TV and radio in place of the existing four Codes. The new format, with key sections now containing an overarching principle and a simple, clean set of rules, means they will be easier to interpret and navigate. This should help improve understanding of the rules.

When assessing whether to tighten, relax or discard existing restrictions, the Committee of Advertising Practice and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice operated from the standpoint that the majority of the rules already work well. However, while we have retained the enduring principles that ads should not contain anything that is likely to be misleading, harmful or offensive, we have strengthened - as necessary - the consumer protections that lie at the heart of the Codes.

Perhaps most importantly, we have, for the first time, introduced an overarching social responsibility clause in the BCAP Code. This rule has already applied across non-broadcast media for many years and it helps to ensure that all ads are responsible to consumers and to society in general.

On that note, the most significant changes to the Codes are the enhanced protections surrounding children. For instance, we have created a new scheduling rule for TV and radio to keep ads for computer or console games carrying an 18+, 16+ or 15+ rating away from children's programming. Also, strengthened data protection rules for children, preventing marketers from collecting data from under-12s without parental consent, and from under-16s about other people, are other examples of where rules are being tightened in this area.

With the proliferation of environmental claims in ads and subsequent complaints to the ASA about "greenwash", it seemed sensible to create a dedicated environmental section in the BCAP Code. The aim of this is to give advertisers more clarity on what is likely to be acceptable when promoting the green credentials of a product or service; such as not suggesting that environmental claims are universally accepted if a significant division of informed or scientific opinion exists. It also aligns the BCAP Code with the non-broadcast rules, ensuring greater consistency between the two.

Wherever possible, the Codes now share many of the same rules in key areas such as misleading advertising, harm and offence.

But it's not just about rules that have been added to the Codes, it's also about those that have been taken away. Various rules have been relaxed or removed, giving greater scope for agencies to pursue new creative routes. For instance, though obvious care will be needed on taste and decency grounds, the relaxation of the 9pm scheduling restriction on condom advertising means ads can now appear throughout the day as long as they are sensitively scheduled and kept away from younger viewers. On another health-related theme, the ban on endorsement by healthcare professionals in TV and radio ads has been lifted - but new rules will still ensure that their use in ads is responsible and doesn't mislead.

Although making things simpler has been our major objective, help is at hand to guide you through it all. CAP Services provides a range of compliance tools including training events and online resources to help you understand the requirements of the Advertising Codes. Our Copy Advice team additionally provides a free, confidential and expert service for non-broadcast ads and they've been busy updating our fully searchable online database of guidance to bring it in line with the new Codes.

CAP and BCAP are committed to ensuring that advertising is not brought into disrepute. We write the rules, not to make advertisers and agencies' lives difficult, but to demonstrate businesses' commitment to advertising responsibly and, in doing so, protecting advertising freedoms. By upholding these standards, agencies play an important role in achieving this. The new rules are days away. If in doubt, give us a shout.

- Shahriar Coupal is the secretary of the Committee of Advertising Practice and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice.


How to avoid falling foul of the new rules at the first hurdle:

- Build the use of Copy Advice into your planning; don't wait until the last minute.

- Be mindful of the fact that the Codes now contain clarification on the use of the word "free".

- Do not mislead consumers about prizes and gifts. The sales promotion rules oblige marketers to be clear about the number and nature of prizes, including those that are available to win and those that are guaranteed to be won.

- If you are advertising a computer or console game carrying an 18+, 16+ or 15+ rating, then you will not be able to show it around programmes made for, or likely to appeal particularly to, children.

- Be aware of the closer consistency between the Codes. For instance, the non-broadcast Code contains a new rule on photo-sensitive epilepsy to protect people who might be harmed by flashing images (in keeping with the rule for TV).

- If you are looking to make a claim about the health benefit of a food or drink product, you'll need to be aware of new rules that reflect the provisions of the Nutritional and Health Claims Made on Foods Regulations.

- Do make sure you follow ASA adjudications. In the following months, the ASA will begin to publish rulings under the new Codes - setting potentially new benchmarks for entire sectors. So, make sure you keep up to speed.