November 16, 2020
As CAP explains, qualifications are the additional pieces of information that ensure that consumers properly understand the headline or central (primary) claims being made. This is a tool that promotional marketing uses a lot to peak the interest of the user and it is a tool that betting operators and affiliates are also known to favour (and for which they have been pulled up on by the ASA).
CAP reminds marketers that marketing communications must state significant limitations and qualifications. Qualifications may clarify, but must not contradict the claims that they qualify (rule 3.10). In practice, this means matters such as conditions that a consumer must meet to take advantage of an offer or restrictions on the scope of the primary claim. Qualifications that contradict must not be included, e.g. “Free” offers that try to use a qualifier to explain that there is a cost to the consumer.
CAP also reminds marketers that clarity is really important (rule 3.10). The information should be clear and legible, capturing the consumer’s attention in a given media or ad format. Marketers need to think about factors such as:
- the size of qualifying text (is it readable across different devices and at the likely viewing distance?);
- its orientation (horizontal is definitely easier to read than vertical); and
- its clarity (ads should not hide qualifiers using in light-on-light text/background combinations.
The guidance includes a tool to help get the prominence of qualifications right. The “qualifications ladder” breaks ads down into levels of prominence: headline, sub-heading, body copy and footnote. Marketers creating ads should think about where their qualifier should sit on the ladder in relation to a primary claim. The more important the qualifier, the higher it should be, e.g. headline primary claim >> sub-heading qualification.
The ASA will take the characteristics of different media into account when ruling on an ad. The guidance has some new and useful things to say about the differences between printed matter that consumers have to hand (e.g. newspapers and direct mailings) and media limited by time and space (e.g. VoD and other audio-visual ads, though note that BCAP has separate guidance for the use of superimposed text in TV advertising). To access the updated guidance, click here.
This guidance really does just summarise the ASA’s position following a number of adjudications where qualifications have resulted in misleading advertising breaches. It is, nevertheless, a very important summary for operators running promotional offers, particularly when marketing the same offer using a variety of media with different space limitations. It also serves as an important reminder to those in the sector undertaking B2B marketing, as misleading marketing is an offence under both The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs) and The Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008 (BPRs).