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CAP Help Note on Religious Offence

In a new Help Note for advertisers on Religious Offence, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) - the industry body that writes the rules for non-broadcast advertising - outlines the challenges a diverse society poses to marketers who wish to avoid offending the public but who may be unaware of what causes particular hurt to people of different backgrounds.

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CAP is the industry side of the self-regulatory regime for non-broadcast advertising. Breaking the CAP Code can get advertisers into trouble with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The Help Note is a response to ASA research into what constitutes serious offence.

The Help Note recognises that Christianity is a public and established faith in the UK, with its symbols, language and customs largely integrated into mainstream culture. However, it warns that some aspects of religion are so sacred to believers that it is rarely going to be acceptable to use them in marketing without causing serious offence. In particular the guidelines warn marketers that the following may all cause serious or widespread offence:

Dismissive or irreverent depiction of sacred figures, symbols, texts and places. For example, images of the crucifixion, especially if that depiction could be construed as mocking.

Links between religion and sex or nudity.

Using religion to advertise inappropriate products, for example - it would be unacceptable to use Catholic references to advertise birth control, or Muslim imagery to advertise alcohol.

Swearing - those with strong religious beliefs are more sensitive to the use of swearwords and sexual innuendo.

The guidelines stress that it is not the aim of the ASA to make advertising a religion-free zone. The Help Note makes a distinction between light-hearted depictions of religion and disrespectful ones. For example:

Depiction of the clergy is likely to be acceptable unless that depiction is unsuitable or denigratory.

Religious language may be used in a secular context unless that context is likely to cause offence (for example, placing a religious phrase next to a sexual image).

Light-hearted treatments of religion are more likely to be acceptable than mocking ones.

Using less central parts of the core of a religion (for example, some Bible stories) is less likely to cause offence as these are more part of the 'cultural furniture'.

The guidance also reminds marketers to take into account whether or not ads are likely to appear close to places of worship. Ads that make religious references or show nudity are more likely to cause offence on posters at sensitive locations than the same advertisement appearing in more targeted media.

To download the CAP help note, click on the link below.

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