Non-broadcast advertising regulation in a Covid-19 world

Non-broadcast advertising regulation in a Covid-19 world

Advertising regulation has never been an exact science, and this reality is high-lighted by the ongoing Covid-19 situation

3 years ago

While all commercials must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society (CAP Code 1.2), just what that means in a Covid-19 world is a moot point as UK Government health advice and legislation changes with the progress of the pandemic. The final arbiter in any potential breach of the CAP Codes is ASA Council and none of the following is prejudicial of any ruling by that body.

When designing commercials, agencies should be mindful of current social realities. Advertisements going into production should avoid encouraging flagrant breaches of government-recommended or legally required Covid-19 behaviour. Failure to do so may place the ad in breach of harm, safety or social responsibility rules, the interpretation of which tends to reflect current circumstances. The CAA encourages all agencies to submit scripts before production, and they should not hesitate to contact CAP ( or the CAA for advice.

If agencies currently have specific scenarios in mind which they feel might be dubious in a post Covid-19 world, then best avoid them. While visuals of groups that might conceivably constitute a ‘bubble’ are likely to be assumed as being so, behaviour within that presumed ‘bubble’ could well result in complaints. For instance, a grandmother shown giving enthusiastic kisses to her three grandchildren, might alarm some parents in an audience.

Things impossible to do in today’s Covid world, ­for instance images of a football match in a packed stadium, would be acceptable whether or not they are from stock footage or CGI.  If appropriately set as nostalgia, or reflecting a longed-for future, images of formerly everyday behaviour such as crowded public venues with casual contact etc., are likely to be acceptable. The same goes for images set in a clearly surreal world.

Agencies should be aware that purely commercial ads seeking to gain kudos by exploiting the current public affection for care workers, nurses or ancillary hospital staff in their commercials, are likely to be frowned on. If travel companies seek to advertise their services as ‘guaranteed’ or ‘refundable in the event of cancellation’ all key conditions and exceptions must be stated in the commercial. Claims made for PPE such as masks, or foods and food supplements, must continue to fulfil all requirements of Sections 13 and l5 of the CAP Code.

The situation regarding ads that embarked on production before Covid-19 has been that no action would be taken against them simply for displaying behaviour going against current government Covid-19 requirements and advice. However, if ads made before Covid-19 are amended, re-strapped, or simply reissued and consequently encourage a flagrant breach of contemporary Covid-19 Government advice, they may be found in breach of the codes.

Please contact [email protected] for free advice regarding code compliancy issues on scripts, treatments and rough cuts.


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