The Advertising Standards Authority ("ASA") regulates television and radio advertising under the BCAP Code and nearly all other forms of advertising (e.g. press, online) under the CAP Code.
The guiding principles in both Codes are similar; advertising should be legal, decent, honest and truthful, it should be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and society, and it must not mislead, cause harm or serious or widespread offence.
If done well, using celebrities in ads can help to significantly increase awareness of a brand but it is important to remember the Code principles when undertaking any such activities.
In June the CAP Executive released some guidance which summarises some of the key principles to bear in mind when featuring celebrities in advertising. While there is no new or additional guidance their summary serves as a useful reminder to all those involved.
- Endorsements must be genuine – the Codes require that all advertising is honest and truthful. Claiming that a celebrity loves your brand or watches your TV show without supporting evidence will be a breach of this requirement.
- Claims must be accurate – any claim that is made in an ad must be supported by evidence. For example in relation to cosmetics ads, brands will need to be really careful when using a celebrity to demonstrate a particular product as consumers are more likely to spot an exaggerated claim (incredibly voluminous eyelashes, for example) on a face that is well known to them. Advertisers will need to ensure that any verbal or visual claims contained in an ad do not exaggerate the effectiveness of the product or service.
- Avoid the social media pitfalls – if you pay a celebrity to endorse a product, event or service (payment could be financial or non-financial e.g. free products or tickets) that endorsement is considered an ad and will fall within the ASA's remit. In order to ensure the advertising is honest and truthful it must be clear to the average consumer that they are looking at an ad rather than an independent endorsement. If in doubt ask the celebrity to use "#ad" in their online endorsement.
- Age matters – celebrities are often paid substantial sums because they look younger than they are but individuals who are, or even just look, under 25 cannot play a significant role in ads for alcohol or gambling. The only exception to this rule is that an individual who is under 25 can be featured in a gambling ad if they are the subject of the bet being offered and that bet can be placed directly. In addition ads for alcohol must not be associated with people under 18 or reflect their culture. Just featuring or referring to a celebrity (even if the celebrity is over 25) who is associated with youth culture (e.g. a children's TV presenter) in an alcohol ad may result in that ad falling foul of the Code.
- Be aware of sector restrictions – There are certain restrictions on the types of ad that celebrities can be included in. Ads that endorse medicines cannot feature celebrities. Ads for foods and food supplements must not include health claims referring to the recommendation of an individual health professional (including celebrity health professionals). Ads for food and drink products that are high in fat, salt or sugar which target the under-12s must not include celebrities who are popular with children.
- Be responsible – Importantly from a PR perspective, advertisers should carefully consider their choice of celebrity if there are aspects of their fame or notoriety which make them an inappropriate choice for a particular brand or category of product.
- Seek permission – As always, advertisers need to be careful when portraying or referring to any individual (including a celebrity) in a way that might be considered offensive or adverse without that individual's consent.
It is very easy to consider the use of celebrities in ads as a win-win situation – increased publicity and profile for the individual and the brand. The ASA makes it very clear that the Code's principles will continue to apply to all ads which include celebrities whether they are endorsements on social media, advertising campaigns or other marketing features. Those involved in advertising who are considering using celebrities should consider the ASA's guidance to ensure they stay on the right side of the regulator.