New advertising codes

3 August, 2010

This article looks at the key changes brought in by the new advertising codes for broadcast and non-broadcast media launched on 16 March 2010.



In March 2009 the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) launched a consultation about a wide-ranging review of the advertising codes. This was the first time that CAP and BCAP had conducted a comprehensive, co-ordinated review of the advertising codes, covering both broadcast and non-broadcast advertisements. On 16 March 2010, CAP and BCAP launched new advertising codes for broadcast and non-broadcast media which will replace the existing advertising codes on 1 September 2010. 


These new codes:

  • are based on the principles of consumer protection and social responsibility and contain a requirement that all advertisements are legal, decent, honest and truthful;
  • introduce an overarching social responsibility rule which applies to both broadcast and non-broadcast media (previously this only applied to non-broadcast media);
  • provide enhanced protection for children; and
  • require all factual claims made in advertisements to be substantiated.



As part of the consultation the two committees considered the possibility of having one advertising code to cover both broadcast and non-broadcast media but it was decided that the distinction between the two areas should be retained in light of the pure self-regulation of non-broadcast media when compared with the dual-regulation of broadcast media as a result of Ofcom. However, as a result of the review of both codes being undertaken simultaneously, there is now greater consistency between the two codes.



One of the key points to emphasise about the new codes is how much has remained the same. Evidence gathered during the review process revealed that on the whole the existing codes were working well and did not require fundamental changes. However, the key changes which will take effect from 1 September 2010 are as follows:


BCAP Code format
There will now be one single BCAP Code which covers television standards, television scheduling, radio and text services rather than there being four separate codes.


Social responsibility
A new overarching principle of social responsibility will be introduced, which requires that all advertisements must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to the audience and to society.


Environmental responsibility (Green-washing)
A new rule preventing advertisers from exaggerating the environmental benefits of their products (known as green-washing) will been introduced into both the CAP and BCAP Codes and a new section on environmental claims will be introduced into the BCAP Code. 


Enhanced protection for children
The new codes contain rules which will:

  • prevent advertisers from collecting personal information from children under 12 without obtaining the consent of their parents or guardians;
  • place restrictions on the collection of information from children under 16 which relates to other people;
  • contain new scheduling rules relating to advertising age-restricted computer games and console games to prevent advertisements appearing around programmes made for, or likely to appeal particularly to, children;
  • prevent advertisements from exploiting the trust that children and young people place in adults who are in positions of trust, such as parents and teachers; and 
  • prevent advertisers from directly exhorting children to buy products or to persuade their parents to buy products for them.


Lotteries and Promotions
A new dedicated lottery section has been introduced which will cover the National Lottery and lotteries licensed under the Gambling Act 2005. CAP and BCAP have stated that they consider that lottery advertising should be subject to the same social responsibility rules as other forms of advertising, even though it is subject to its own regulatory regime. In addition, the new codes include rules which oblige marketers of prize promotions to be clear about the number and nature of prizes including those that are available to win and those that are guaranteed to be won, as well as ensuring that recipients of “instant wins” are able to access their prize quickly and easily.


The new codes will now reflect EU requirements which prevent misleading claims about food products and which regulate the advertising of traditional herbal medicines.



From 1 September 2010 there will also be a relaxation of the rules in some specific areas:

  • the restrictions preventing advertisers from advertising condoms before the 9pm watershed will be relaxed but advertisers and broadcasters must ensure that such advertisements are kept away from viewers who are under 10 years old;
  • the charity sector will be able to air advertisements which compare one charity with another on television and radio, subject to complying with the existing rules on comparative advertising;
  • advertisements for adult material may be broadcast but only on adult entertainment channels which are accessible through PIN access controls;
  • betting tipsters will be entitled to advertise for the first time;
  • a new rule will explicitly allow pregnancy advice services to advertise for the first time and will require them to make it clear if they do not refer women for abortion; and
  • health professionals will continue to be banned from advertising food and medicine, but may take part in other advertisements.



The new codes will apply to all advertisements from 1 September 2010. Until that date, there will be a grace period for advertisers and media owners to adjust to the new rules. Adjudications made prior to 1 September will be judged against the existing rules.


Reviewed in 2015