There’s an old saying that suggests there’s
no such thing as bad publicity. In fact, many businesses may believe
that in an increasingly crowded and competitive marketplace, any
claim made in an advertisement that gets them noticed is also no bad
thing. This is especially relevant to those who can’t afford to
employ a specialist advertising agency to create their promotional
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Any business that advertises in the press, on the internet or
even through direct means such as leaflets and flyers, needs to be
aware of a government body which could prove you wrong: the
Advertising Standards Authority.
Many businesses will routinely advertise themselves as being “the
best” at something. This is all well and good but a little known
fact is that, as well as believing it, you need to be able to
prove it or risk falling foul of the ASA.
The ASA is an independent body set up by the advertising industry to
police the content of advertisements, sales promotions and direct
marketing in the UK, by making sure that all three adhere to the
provisions of various “codes”. They will investigate any complaint
made about an advertisement and, potentially, impose penalties on
the advertiser of the business making the advertisement.
A case in point is a recent advertisement claiming that a firm of
estate agents was the “leading” practice in the town. A competitor
complained to the ASA, which ruled that the advertisement was
misleading as the firm in question had no evidence to back up their
claim, and ordered that is should not be repeated.
On area where the ASA does NOT get involved, however, is in relation
to claims on websites, show window displays or in-store advertising.
This doesn’t mean that you can say what you want, however, as
Trading Standards will get involved, and can impose much stricter
There are also other legal issues to consider, such as the rules on
comparative advertising (which will come into play as and when you
publish an advertisement which compares your goods or services and
their prices to those of another business and uses their trade
mark), and trade libel or malicious falsehood (when an advertisement
is published which criticises goods and services of another business
with the effect that it may damage their profits).
We’re not saying that you should run every advertisement past a
lawyer, but it may be useful to have one on hand if you publish one
that’s “edgy”, describes your business as being the “best” or makes
a comparison with the goods and services of a competitor. As far as
this kind of publicity is concerned, a customer hearing that you’re
being sued over an advertisement is probably exactly the kind of
publicity you don’t want.