Advertising industry and green charities welcome code changes

The advertising industry has hailed the changes made to the advertising codes as “timely and welcome”, while the addition of a code aimed at cracking down on exaggerated environmental claims has been described as a “vital step” in tackling climate change by one leading green charity.

Barnardo’s and other charities may choose to run comparative advertising

However, changes allowing charities to launch comparative advertisements has been given a more cautious welcome.

Today (16 March) sees the announcement of several changes to the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) codes for broadcast and non-broadcast media after a lengthy consultation with industry bodies, Government and advertising agencies.

The review has led to the introduction of several new codes as well as some consolidation of existing codes with the aim of making them more “relevant and effective” for both consumers and advertisers.

Tim Lefroy, chief executive of the Advertising Association, says the announcement of the new codes is “both timely and welcome”.

“As long as the public continues to trust the ASA and its ’legal, decent, honest and truthful’ mantra – and it does – both society and the industry will be well-served,” he says.

An explicit rule to prevent what has been called “greenwashing” has been included in the non-broadcast code while an environmental claims section will be included in the broadcast code.

Andrew Brown, chairman of CAP and BCAP, says the inclusion of the new environmental code will help companies avoid unnecessary bans and provide the ASA with a “better steer” when adjudicating.

The inclusion of the environmental code has been warmly received by environmental charities that see it as an important step in raising awareness and understanding of climate change.

Cathy Anderson, marketing director at Greenpeace, says consumers need “reliable information” from companies so they “can do their bit to save the planet”.

“A false cure is worse than none, as shown by the mistaken belief that giving a few quid to some dodgy offset company is a license to binge fly.

“Removing greenwash from the airwaves is a vital step towards removing CO2 from the atmosphere, and we hope this new rule will make that task easier,” she says.

Another new code will allow the charity sector to air comparative advertisements on television and radio that compare one charity with another.

The code brings the third sector in line with other industries and will allow charities to compare the work they do with other charities as well as clearing the way for comparisons of how donations are spent. The change also comes at a time when donations are in decline as consumers cut back in the recession.

Brown says the charities sector should not been be seen as a “special category” and should be able to launch comparative advertisements as long as they do not break the rules on comparative advertising.

He adds that although CAP recognises that all charities compete for “the pound in your pocket” it does not expect charities to begin “slugging it out with each other”.

A spokeswoman for the Institute of Fundraising says the new rules could help charities “educate the public further as to the charity’s work” but they will need to be careful not to do harm to the sector.

“Any charity that does use comparative advertising will need to ensure that they do not denigrate the work of other charities and the sector more widely,” she adds.

The only new addition to the code relating to advertising of alcohol is the application of the “strict” rules for alcohol products to low alcohol products of less than 1.2%ABV.

The change comes amid calls from bodies including the Health Select Committee and British Medical Association for stricter rules governing the advertising of alcohol products.

Brown says it was “much too early” to consider any further changes to the advertising codes in this area because the scheduling and content rules, governed by Ofcom and introduced in 2005, needed more to time to take effect.

Alcohol industry body The Portman Group welcomed the change. “Alcohol drinks still contain alcohol, albeit relatively small volume, and their sale is subject to the normal liquor licensing laws. It’s therefore logical that their promotion should generally be subject to the normal alcohol advertising rules,” it says.

Another code amendment – which will see the post-9pm scheduling restriction for condom advertising on TV removed so that ads can run earlier in the evening – is sure to attract criticism from some groups concerned about children seeing ads for contraception.

However, Brown says there is now less “less naivety, prurience, and embarrassment” around the subject of contraception and the code change brings it in line with Government communications on responsible use of contraception.

“There is no case for saying young adults watching Coronation Street should be restricted from watching a condom ad”, he adds.

There will now be a period of grace for advertisers and media owners to adjust to the new rules. Brown says CAP and BCAP will embark on a training and awareness drive to bring the industry up to speed with the changes.

However he does add that it is “pleased” with the changes it has made, adding they are aimed at making the codes “more user friendly”.

“A lot hasn’t changed but it is better expressed,” he adds.

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