Following on from last month’s blog we discussed the importance of well written copy. This month’s article follows on from that and specifically considers marketing law, or put simply ethical marketing.
Whether you write promotional copy for your own commercial benefit or you pay others to do this for you, I’d expect you’ve made this choice based on simplicity, proficiency or affordability? But regardless of whether you have the time for the DIY version or you can afford to outsource, experience suggests that its very rare to find someone who is acutely aware of marketing law prior to making a decision that suits them best, especially amongst SME’s (Small to Medium Enterprises). So using a professional bureau who understands the importance of ethical marketing can save you time and inconvenience, particularly if any complaints are made about your promotion to the ASA who will quite rightly investigate any such transgression. Add to this any loss of time within the business as you prepare your response, the potential to alienate customers, the negative word of mouth and additional anxiety inflicted upon internal stakeholders and you have to ask the question, is it worth it? Remember too that every complaint raised, whether found to be at fault or not, has its company name published on the ASA’s website, not great if respect for the customer is visibly listed as a high priority on your company website, eh?
There is a balance to be had when you are looking to piece together the next marketing initiative, on one hand your copy should be clear and concise, well-written and effective. On the other hand this may necessitate the inclusion of a raft of legal compliance, important to safeguard your customer and you as the business owner. Equally, you’ll need to ensure that you don’t infringe on any of your competitors, otherwise a successful claim against you may not end with a ruling from the ASA. In the book ‘Essential Law for Marketers, Kolah, A. (2013), 2nd Edition, Kogan Page, there is reference to the claim made by Interflora who successfully challenged Marks and Spencer on the use of the word ‘Interflora’ in their online marketing campaigns. Most of us would not expect anything less, yet clearly someone at M&S thought it safe to do so?
As a business owner you should never assume that because complaints have not been brought against you before, that this is an indication your campaigns have been appropriate, when in fact it may simply be a case of good fortune. When I speak about this subject to our clients, what often comes as a surprise to them is that a complaint can be raised by a solitary person, or a competitor. This is enough to lead to a formal review process of the promotion being undertaken by the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) who maintains accuracy over both non-broadcast & broadcast media using the two separate guidelines; CAP (the Code of Advertising Practice) and BCAP (Broadcast Code of Advertising Practice). Claims can be made on many grounds: decency, eligibility, race, equality, fairness, misrepresentation and many others are often in evidence and they can be brought forward anytime within three months*of your advert appearing.
If this is an area that you’ve tended to overlook previously when preparing your campaigns, I’d advise against doing that for the reasons given above and instead appoint a professional to take care of this on your behalf. To remain fully informed we use many tools and sources, including through our membership of the CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing), referencing several good books and a copy of the Code itself. If however that’s not an option the DIY route might still work for you. There are plenty of sources available that can help as well as the ASA’s own website ‘.asa.org.uk’ and the government’s website ‘.gov.uk’ which also has a section on marketing and advertising law. You may find that simply reading the complaints and the rulings will build up your knowledge to at least assist with the DIY route. In 2010, the ASA assessed an astonishing 25,562 complaints rising in 2012 to 31,298 complaints; just don’t be fooled into thinking that you have to be a large multi-national to have a case to defend.
*Correct at time of writing