Businesses promoting themselves through high profile advertising campaigns need to exercise caution to avoid attracting the wrong sort of publicity.
Center Parcs’ recent wrist slap from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the UK’s independent advertising regulator, highlights the need for advertisers to behave responsibly and for small print to reflect the focus of adverts.
It also serves as a useful reminder to businesses that they should be particularly careful when using disclaimers in the context of advertising or contractual arrangements directed at consumers.
How Did Center Parcs Get It Wrong?
A television advert for Center Parcs was banned by the ASA after the regulator concluded that it was ‘irresponsible’ and contravened the Advertising Code. It was deemed irresponsible because it appeared to encourage parents to take their children out of school during term time, something which the government has recently sought to clamp down on with the introduction of tougher regulations.
The advert was designed to promote special offer of four-night midweek breaks for four people and featured families throughout the advert enjoying activities at a Center Parcs resort. However, the small print displayed during that advert stated that the offer, “excludes school holidays”.
The ASA concluded that the prominent featuring of families in the advert suggested that the emphasis of the advert was on family holidays and the final on-screen text stating "Your family. Your time" effectively encouraged parents to take up the offer.
It is notable that the advert had been approved by Clearcast, the advertising clearance service. Meanwhile, a Center Parcs spokesperson commented that the ruling was “extremely harsh”.
It is up to all businesses to ensure that their advertising is responsible and follows the Advertising Code. The Advertising Standards Authority does not just act upon complaints but it proactively reviews different forms of media to ensure that advertising is not misleading, offensive or harmful.
Its remit includes reviewing advertising, direct marketing and sales promotions over broadcast media, non-broadcast media, online media and video on demand. The ASA can require that amendments are made or that the material is withdrawn altogether. Non compliance can lead to the ASA invoking sanctions against advertisers including referrals to Ofcom or Trading Standards and eventually fines.
The cost of producing and implementing advertising campaigns for television should be enough of an incentive for businesses to be cautious about risking a ban. In most cases adverts are pre-cleared before appearing.
Furthermore, small print should always be used judiciously in any materials directed at consumers, particularly if it contains disclaimers. There are strong protections for consumers under a host of legislation including the Consumer Protection Act 1987, the Sale of Goods Act 1979 and the Trade Descriptions Act 1968.
For specialist advice regarding advertising regulation or any other form of consumer protection laws or regulations, please contact Peter Gourri today by email PGourri@rollingsons.co.uk or telephone 0207 611 4848.