Good news, probably! Since the 1 September 2010 advertisers have had to comply with new codes.

The Codes have been reviewed to reflect changes in the law and to ensure consumer protection, whilst still offering a level playing field for advertisers.

In March 2009 the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and CAP Broadcast Committee (BCAP) launched a public consultation on a comprehensive review and update of the two Codes, to ensure that the Codes were relevant and fit for their purpose. They received around 30,000 responses, and have now published the new Codes.

Why is this good news? The Codes are now simpler, more consistent, and easier to use. For broadcasters, four codes have been merged into a single Code. There is now a common requirement of “social responsibility”, which gives teeth to the familiar requirement for advertisements to be legal, decent, honest and truthful. There are also common rules in other areas, such as “free” offers, exaggerated environmental claims (“greenwashing”), protection of children, comparative advertising by charities, and gambling.

Why probably, then? Two primary reasons: first, the associated guidance on the use of the word “free” is less clear and consistent than one would like; and secondly, there is more to follow, notably on the application of the Codes to non-paid advertising, including the advertiser’s own web-site.

So who regulates what?

Non-broadcast marketing in the UK is regulated by the British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (the CAP Code). This is a self-regulatory code which is maintained by CAP and enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The CAP Code does not have legal effect, but the ASA can, and does, impose a range of sanctions for non-compliance.

Television advertising in the UK is regulated by the BCAP Advertising Standards Code. The BCAP Code is maintained by the BCAP and enforced by the ASA on behalf of Ofcom.