Staying within the law is vital but to do this you need to be clear on exactly what the law is. Marketing in the UK is a self-regulated industry but this doesn’t mean you can do what you want. It actually means that there are very stringent guidelines which micro-businesses and other small businesses have to follow.
The main source of information on this is the Committees of Advertising Practice, which can be viewed at http://www.cap.org.uk/. This blog will regularly publish details of new guidance produced by them, but I would suggest that you also subscribe to their newsletters, so that you are kept regularly informed on areas which may be of relevance to your micro-business.
Particular areas where guidance is produced are given below:
Food and drink. If your products are consumable then the way you promote and advertise them is regulated, such as any health benefits which they claim to provide.
Medical services. This also applies to therapies as well as formal medicinal or herbal products. One of the restrictions is around the benefits you claim for them, which needs to have documentary evidence.
Cosmetics. The issue here is again what you are allowed to claim as benefits of using the product. This also relates to services which may be classed as cosmetic surgery, such as health and beauty clinics, opticians and dental practises.
Advertising to children. This relates both to products directly targeted at children but also where the advertising may be seen by children.
Free trials. The product must be completely free to trial without any hidden costs or obligations.
Sales Promotions. If you advertise a product as reduced in price, for example, you need to be absolutely clear on what it is reduced from and for how long it was on sale at the full price, plus there are minimum requirements for the period of reduction.
Competitions and prize draws. There are multiple restrictions on this, such as offering plain paper entries, having a ‘skill level’ for competitions and using independent adjudicators.
Making advertising clear. There is always a danger that micro-businesses mistake general information for marketing and promotion. The basic rule is that something is marketing if it is encouraging someone to do something, so the communication needs to be clear that it is an ‘Advertising Feature’.
Environmental claims. If you claim your products and services to be ‘green’ or ‘environmentally-friendly’ then you will need some kind of evidence that it is, plus not make claims that cannot be backed up. You also need to take into account the full product life-cycle, so if the manufacturing or disposal processes aren’t ‘green’, you can’t claim that your product is.
There are also some industries which have their own specific sets of regulations, such as lettings agencies or gambling sites. If you operate within these sectors you will have to ensure you follow the specific guidance for these industries.
These rules and regulations may feel very onerous but the CAP are actually very helpful. They would rather provide advice on how to stay compliant, than enforce regulations after a breach, so they are happy to advise on any promotions and marketing you want to run.