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Think BR: Off with their heads! Advertising and the royal couple

Risk-taking advertisers could find that print is the best way to capitalise on the upcoming royal wedding, writes Helen Bowyer, Lewis Silkin LLP.

Helen Bowyer, advertising and marketing expert at Lewis Silkin LLP

Helen Bowyer, advertising and marketing expert at Lewis Silkin LLP

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So, your client wants to jump on the royal wedding bandwagon with its advertising? What will happen if you feature or refer to Will and Kate in a few executions?

Well, firstly, you’ll be pleased to know that there is little chance of being locked in the Tower. But what’s the worst that could happen?

For TV ads, you’ll struggle to get past Clearcast; the royal guards of pre-clearance will be keeping a raven-like look out.

The general rule under the BCAP Code of Broadcast Advertising is that living individuals (whether prince or pauper) must not be featured, caricatured or referred to in advertisements without their permission. 

You’ll no doubt be met with a noble 'no' from the Lord Chamberlain’s Office if you attempt to seek permission.    

For non-broadcast ads, the CAP Code includes a specific rule that members of the royal family should not normally be shown or mentioned in advertising without their prior permission. 

Ah-ha! I hear you cry, a loophole! Miss Middleton still has her commoner status until she says 'I do'. 

But before you start 'purple washing' your ads with pictures of the princess-to-be, while breathing a sigh of relief that you no longer have the daunting task of airbrushing William’s barnet, remember that the ASA enforces the spirit of the Code, not just the letter.

If recent newspaper reports are to be believed, the royal household intends to complain about implied endorsements and references to Miss Katherine Middleton prior to, and after, the nuptials.

If any advertiser were to be locked in the Tower, I’d like to put money on Ryanair being the first through Traitor’s Gate. 

Way back in 2004, the ASA investigated a Ryanair ad which contained an image of Prince Charles and appeared in national newspapers. 

The publication of the ad coincided with some unproven and scandalous allegations involving the Prince. 

The headline of Ryanair’s ad read 'Prince’s secret revealed'. In a speech bubble, the Prince was shown saying, 'Pssst... Ryanair’s fares are 50% lower than Easyjet’s'. 

A total of 19 complaints were received claiming that this ad was "offensive" and "irreverent" to the royal family. 

The ASA ruled that although it did not find that the ad breached the Code in terms of causing widespread offence, permission should have been sought for use of the Prince’s image.

If the royalists were prompted to voice their disapproval in such numbers due to perceived offence to Prince Charles, they may muster in droves if an advertiser dares to commercialise the nation’s new darlings.

You may recall that the OFT, as the legal backstop to the ASA, had the opportunity to deal with Ryanair back in 2008-9 after the advertiser was referred to it by the ASA for investigation following a litany of upheld complaints. 

Instead of taking a tough stance, the OFT effectively gave the serial offender a get out of the Tower free card. No fines. No non-broadcast pre-vetting obligations. Just a rather gentle slap on the wrist. 

So, when I spotted that the cheeky monkeys were at it again in November 2010, just after the announcement of the royal engagement, I wasn’t exactly flabbergasted. 

The ad, entitled 'Honeymoon specials!' featured a lovely picture of the happy couple with a think bubble from Kate saying, 'Glad we’ve booked Ryanair'.

Potentially another upheld complaint in the offing to add to their burgeoning collection.

It’s no real surprise that these risks are generally taken by advertisers in quick burst print runs.

The ad has generally been, gone and had the desired impact by the time the ASA takes any action.

In contrast, if a poster campaign is found to breach the CAP Code, the posters may need to be taken down; this can lead to the advertiser having to incur the costs associated with removal of the ad and loss of media space.

Advertisers should seek legal advice if they do plan on using images of Will and Kate.

But, if the advertiser is not averse to the potential negative PR resulting from an upheld ASA complaint, its consumer base doesn’t have a high proportion of monarchists and/or its CEO isn’t hoping for an MBE anytime soon, it may feel inclined to risk incurring the wrath of the ASA in a short print burst.

Helen Bowyer, advertising and marketing expert at Lewis Silkin LLP

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