BCAP issues guidance on use of superimposed text in TV advertising

Published on 08 April 2019

What guidelines must superimposed text on TV ads comply with in order not to mislead viewers?

The background

Superimposed text (supers) refers to the “small print” found on TV ads, such as wording included for legal/regulatory purposes or in order to qualify, clarify or add significant details about the product or service being advertised or a claim being made.

The Guidance which came into force on 1 March 2019 (the Guidance) addressed findings by the ASA and BCAP that supers are often too long, too complex or too hard to read against the background.  This can have the effect of misleading viewers, in breach of the BCAP Code and legislation which prohibits misleading claims in ads.  The Guidance therefore assists advertisers in complying with the Code and relevant legislation.  Note that, just because an ad’s supers are not misleading does not mean the other elements of the ad or the ad as a whole are not misleading.

The scope

The Guidance applies only to actual TV ads, not on-demand and other similar servicesIt also applies only to text superimposed onto the ad, usually at the bottom, for the purpose of complying with relevant misleading advertising rules.  The Guidance will generally not be relevant to statements included solely for legal/regulatory purposes, to subtitles (eg added for accessibility) and to other text incidentally included within the creative of the ad itself.

The principle

The general principle is that written information which qualifies the ad must be “presented clearly” and reasonably legible, considering the surrounding picture, length of time available to the reader, amount of text to be absorbed and significance of the information being conveyed.  Particularly important information, for example, might be emphasised through the voice-over or displayed on screen for an extended time in order to ensure viewers can understand the information and are not misled.

Why is this important?

While the ASA has indicated its intent to allow advertisers an adjustment period until September 2019, so that problematic supers will initially be addressed informally rather than through a formal ASA ruling, the Guidance is part of the ASA’s ongoing function to prevent misleading or harmful ads.  The ASA has emphasised that the Guidelines represent “big changes” which were needed, and will affect all sectors - some “quite considerably”.

Any practical tips?

Advertisers should seek to minimise the use of supers in TV ads where possible.  Where supers are necessary, consider the detailed technical guidelines in the Guidance, which set out rules on aspects ranging from size of text, font face and character spacing, to sentence structure, duration of display and position on screen.

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