“All ads in the UK, wherever they appear, must be legal, decent, honest and truthful in line with the The British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (The CAP Code).” ~Copyadvice.co.uk

by Steve Kellas

Do you know your CAP Code? Do you know if your copywriter is following the Code?

In the UK, the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) governs advertising in all forms, including websites. Every copywriter has a responsibility to understand the rules in order to keep his or her clients on the right side of the spirit and the letter of the law. This includes any copywriting in emails, articles, web pages and even Facebook pages that are under the client’s control.

The UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing, or CAP Code, is the set of rules that outline what is fair to use in copy and what is not. This Code covers all manner of copywriting that is non-broadcast (i.e. not on television) and it sets out both how and why to word your copy in a certain way.

Remember that the rules are as much a protection for businesses as they are for consumers. On more than one occasion, knowing the rules helped me save a client from a creating a promotion that would have cost them dearly in bad publicity.

Here are a couple of the most guidances you can find in the CAP Code.

You can’t describe something as ‘free’ if the consumer has to pay packaging or handling charges

This comes under the ‘misleading advertising’ section’s rules on using ‘free’ in your marketing communications.

Basically, if the consumer has to pay anything other than the “unavoidable cost of responding and collecting or paying for delivery of the item” then you can’t call it ‘free’ or ‘gratis’ or ‘without charge’.

You can’t win a gift

This often trips up new copywriters and many seasoned marketers. A gift is not a prize, and the distinction needs to be made: “items offered to a significant proportion of consumers in a promotion should be described as gifts, not prizes, or any other term for either word likely to have the same meaning for consumers.”

Further to these rules, if you are running a promotion, you cannot claim in your copywriting that the consumer is ‘luckier’ than they really are. The CAP Code singles out using terms such as “finalist” as an example of what to avoid.

The great thing is, you’re not alone to interpret the Code yourself. The CAP Code website (copyadvice.co.uk) provides the full current edition of the Code, and gives many examples, FAQs and a bespoke copy advice service if your situation is complex.

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