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Happy 2012 (and be nice to your readers)

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

Happy new year from Good As Gold! My Facebook newsfeed this morning is filled with complaints about sleeping badly, the miserable weather or returning to work (or all three). I hope you’re feeling more positive than the majority of my friends … although I suspect their updates may represent the mood of the nation at large.

One of my 2012 business resolutions is to blog more, so I thought I’d kick off with something that I tucked away this time last year.

Imagine my delight when, on 5 January, I received an unsolicited email newsletter from a leadership management company, with this opening:

Ahhhh the start of another year and all those New Year resolutions have probably already been broken. Back in the same old groove after just 5 days are we? Fancy a change? Fancy something new? Want to try something different? It will take more than a promise to yourself at midnight on New Years Eve after a couple of glasses of shampoo!!

Not only is this badly written, but - worse - it’s patronising, makes assumptions about the reader, and … well, it’s a teeny bit rude. I’d been to the gym that day! I’d eaten my five portions of fruit and veg! I even resisted that enormous slab of Christmas cake at lunchtime.

OK, I’m lying about the cake - but I hope you get my point. Be friendly. Be self-deprecating. Even be personal. Never insult your reader.

Here’s to an Olympic year ahead.

New Year 2012

Good As Gold’s reassuring guide to ASA compliance

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

You’ve probably heard about the new powers wielded by the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) regarding the claims companies can and cannot make on their websites. Here’s Good As Gold’s reassuring guide to compliance …  

Magic potions

The ASA is the UK’s independent regulator of advertising across all media. It applies clearly defined Advertising Codes to ensure ads are legal, decent, honest and truthful.

Before Tuesday 1 March 2011, when it came to online content, the ASA was only able to police paid-for ads (such as banner adverts, pop-up boxes and paid search results). That meant companies could stick any old baloney up on their websites and not face any kind of official comeback. Since 2008, the ASA received more than 4,500 complaints about websites, but did not have the power to follow them up.

Now that’s changing. From Tuesday 1 March 2011, ASA’s remit has been extended to all online content. This means companies’ own websites, as well as other public spaces they control (such as their Twitter and Facebook accounts), are subject to ASA regulation.

You can download the latest UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing from http://www.cap.org.uk/The-Codes/CAP-Code.aspx. If you’re put off by the 124 pages, here’s Good As Gold’s guide to some of the information it contains.

Although the ASA does issue sanctions to companies that fail to comply with rulings, its main role is not to punish. It is to help you ensure your marketing is legal, decent, honest and truthful.

In the light of ASA’s extended remit, here are a few questions to ask yourself about your website …

* Have I got documentary evidence to support my testimonials and any claims that I’ve presented as objective?
* Do any of my prices mislead, either by omission, undue emphasis or distortion? (Note that VAT-exclusive prices may be given only if all or most of your consumers pay no VAT or can recover VAT).
* Are my sales promotions fair and honourable, and have I included all the significant terms & conditions?
* Am I confident that something I’ve described as ‘free’ is indeed free?
* Have I protected the privacy of my visitors, customers, and people featured on my website?
* Is everything I’ve aimed at under-16s safe, suitable and ethical?

This is not exhaustive and if you’re worried about anything on your website, please just ask. As a professional copywriter, I take pride in staying updated on  adjudications and additions to the Codes, so I can advise you if I think you’re veering into unsubstantiated claim territory.

On several occasions I’ve liaised with the ASA’s Copy Team on my clients’ behalf to check that the medical or environmental benefits of their products were not being wrongly exaggerated. Often we were able to reword the copy so that the message was just as powerful, but no longer misleading or overblown.

Indeed, I believe that measured, ASA-compliant copy is a better selling tool than hyperbolic spiel, which most consumers will find patronising or untrustworthy.

You can also get a website audit from the Copy Advice team, which costs £800 + VAT and takes about ten working days to complete. Find out more at http://www.copyadvice.org.uk/Ad-Advice/Website-audit.aspx.

As long as you are committed to selling honestly, backing up your claims and being truthful, there is little to worry about. ASA is not a Big Bad Monster out to taint your name and stomp on your creativity. It is there to protect consumers and uphold high standards of advertising. To marketers, ASA’s regulation is a good thing: it means consumers can enjoy the work we produce and trust what they see, hear and read.

Call me on 0121 236 7066 or email marie@goodasgoldws.co.uk.

New Advertising Codes: don’t slip up!

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) is launching new UK Advertising Codes, which will take effect from 1 September 2010.

You can download the new CAP as a PDF here. It is clear and easy to read, and contains important information on marketing, including:

  • When ‘puffery’ (obvious exaggeration) is acceptable

carlsberg

  • Where you stand on price information, including when you can or can’t describe a product as ‘free’
  • 'oh yes it's free'

  • Guidelines on making comparisons between your company or product (or price!) and a competitor’s. A Blackpool taxi company got into trouble recently for distributing leaflets that unfairly claimed its competitor was slow and did not value price, quality or service!

snail

  • The need to back up your testimonials or endorsements. Hint: “you must hold documentary evidence that a testimonial or endorsement used in a marketing communication is genuine, unless it is obviously fictitious, and hold contact details for the person who, or organisation that, gives it”
  • fabricated testimonial

  • Guidance on minimising the risk of your communications causing harm or serious widespread offence
  • internet shock

  • Making sure that advertising aimed at under-16s is safe, suitable and ethical. This section of the Code has undergone perhaps the greatest number of changes, aiming for enhanced protection for children

Boy with football

  • Protecting people’s privacy (including, interestingly, members of the Royal Family)

email privacy

  • The rules on special offers, competitions and promotions
  • Raffle tickets

  • Guidelines on direct marketing, to complement the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 
  • Stop spam sign

  • The need for compliance with data protection legislation.(Are you keeping your contacts’ details safe and giving them the chance to opt out of your communications?)
  • confidential information

  • When you can and can’t make claims about a product being green or environmentally friendly

Earth in hand

  • Details about promoting medicines, medical devices, treatments, health-related products and beauty products. A water purifier ad was banned this month for making unsubstantiated claims that the product was “alkalizing, aided respiration and produced youthful looking skin”

Magic potions

  • Guidelines and rules on marketing communications for weight control and slimming aids; financial products (please note that these can go down as well as up); food; gambling products and lotteries; alcoholic drinks; and motoring-related products.
  • Cherry red summer apple with measuring tape

You may also be interested in reading the Broadcast Code of Advertising Practice (BCAP), which governs TV and radio advertising. 

If ever you’re unsure as to whether your marketing communications might fall foul of the Code, give CAP’s Copy Advice team a ring on 020 7492 2100. I’ve spoken to them twice recently on behalf of clients: once to check that a cleaning firm was OK to say its environmentally friendly products were ‘healthier’ than others (we had to tread carefully with this) and once to find out where we stood on making links between hypnotherapy and smoking cessation (again, we didn’t want to mislead with false or overstated claims).

Both times I found the Copy Advice team to be helpful and knowledgeable.

I’ll also be attending training on the new Code in the near future, to make sure I can always give you the best and most up-to-date advice. So if you need sparkling, lively, Code-compliant copy, call Good As Gold on 0121 236 7066.

CopyAdvice gives you wings

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Just thought I’d signpost you to the Committee of Advertising Practice’s useful new CopyAdvice website at www.copyadvice.org.uk - a valuable resource for checking whether your ads comply with UK Advertising Codes.

It’s also an interesting read … there you can find out whether it’s OK to suggest that gambling increases one’s sexual attractiveness (it isn’t and it doesn’t!) and how to work with top-parity claims such as “you can’t buy cheaper” or “no other nappy keeps baby drier”.

One to bookmark?

Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) code review

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) help to set the standards for self-regulation in UK advertising. Independently administered by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), they aim to “make sure all advertising, wherever it appears, is honest and decent”.

CAP and BCAP have just opened a 12-week public consultation on all aspects of their advertising codes, so you can have your say on how advertising is regulated.

While some of the proposals were real headline-stealers today (relaxing the restrictions on the late-night advertising of condoms, for example, and permitting abortion advice services to be advertised on TV), I was most interested in those that may affect how advertising copy can be worded.

These include:

* clarifying the use of the word ‘free’
* making sure that claims about products are based on normal, everyday use
* creating an explicit rule to stop marketers from exaggerating the environmental benefits of their products.

I will take the chance to have my say in the coming weeks (and you can too - here is a link to the CAP and BCAP Code Review) and keep up to date with changes that may affect my clients’ copy. Behind today’s hype lies an important and valuable chance to promote fair competition among advertisers and, above all, protect consumers.

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