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CAP’s new “Quick Guide to Advertising Consumer Surveys”

Published on 07 August 2020

How does the new “Quick Guide” ensure that marketing claims are made in a manner that complies with the CAP Code?

The key takeaway

Survey headlines should precisely reflect the survey, and the sample size should be appropriate, statistically significant, and representative. 

The background

Consumer surveys are a useful tool in promoting a product or service and highlighting the strength of a brand’
s reputation but the most common pitfall that marketers fall into is when their ads misleadingly represent their survey’s findings. On 27 February 2020 the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) published “A Quick Guide to Advertising Consumer Surveys” as a helpful starting point for the use of consumer surveys in advertising. 

The guidance

In its guide, CAP stresses the importance for marketers to make clear that their claims are actually based on consumer surveys as opposed to more objective measures. 

Marketers also need to ensure that the sample that they use is of sufficient size to justify the claim that they are making – this will be judged on a case-by-case basis. However, the headline claim is likely to be considered misleading if it cannot be substantiated by a suitably large sample size. Where a sample size is not suitably large, marketers are required to amend their headline claim to ensure that it does not misleadingly exaggerate results. 

Marketers are also not prohibited from selecting specific individuals or groups to form the basis of their sample, in order to extract a specific or favourable view. However, this does not prohibit selective samples from being used without the marketing communication disclosing that the sample had been specifically selected. In particular, marketers should not make a claim, explicit or implied, regarding the general population, if they are using a sample which is unlikely to represent the views of the general population. This principle can extend beyond sample groups that are customers, to include age ranges that do not represent the population. 

Why is this important?

As many marketers tend to contravene the CAP Code in the way they communicate their findings when advertising claims for consumer surveys, this guide will help them stay on the right side of the line so as not to mislead the public when making future claims. Equally, if you feel that a competitor is adding a little too much gloss to their survey claims, the guide should prove a useful resource for planning your best avenues of attack. 

Any practical tips?

Some key questions marketers can ask themselves so that they do not fall foul of the CAP Code in the way that they communicate their findings are: 

  • “Does the headline claim accurately reflect the survey?”
  • “Is the sample size statistically significant”
  • “Is the sample representative?”.
Advertisers are also advised not to ignore earlier CAP guidance – “Substantiation: Consumer surveys and sample claims” – which addresses further key questions that arise in relation to survey data and sample claims. In particular, the earlier guidance warns against making claims based on extrapolated conclusions and stresses the need to ensure that ads do not mislead by exaggerating the results of the survey from which the conclusion is drawn.