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No Such Thing As Bad Publicity?

» Posted on: 4 July 2007
» Posted by: Tony Catterall
» Service area: Intellectual Property

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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 materials.

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 penalties.

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.

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