Stuff Guidelines for Election, Referenda and Advocacy Advertisements

What is the definition of an Election or Advocacy Ad?

Election and advocacy advertising is often characterised by parties having differing views that are expressed in robust terms.

This is especially so when there is proposed legislation or a referendum on an issue of public debate or during a General Election.

The advertisement can be from an individual, group or organisation.

Common subjects include abortion, fluoridation, immunisation, Maori land rights, elections and legalisation of marijuana. Government advertisements promoting a range of health and safety initiatives are also likely to be advocacy advertising.

What are the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) Role

In New Zealand the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has an Advertising Standards Code to ensure that every ad is a responsible ad. This means that the public can have confidence in NZ advertisements and know that they are legal, decent, honest and truthful; and respect the principles of fair competition.

The Code is made up of Principles (the standards expected in advertising) and Rules (examples of how the principles are to be interpreted and applied.)

The ASA treats advocacy advertising seriously. Under Principle 2: Truthful Presentation there are rules and guidelines specifically relating to Advocacy. The ASA also has a Guidance Note on Advocacy Advertising. 

Consumers can be mislead when Advocacy Ad Guidelines are breached. This is because:

    1. Ads can have a lack of context
    2. There can be ambiguity around what is fact and what is an opinion. 
    3. If it is written in an editorial format with no clear Advertisement labelling readers may think it’s part of the news content.

Refer to the Advertising Standards Authority website (asa.co.nz) for more information.

The ASA Rule 2 (b) Truthful Presentation

The ASA Rule most likely to apply to Election Advertisements is ‘Rule 2 (b) Truthful Presentation’.

Advertisements must not mislead or be likely to mislead, deceive or confuse consumers, abuse their trust or exploit their lack of knowledge.

This includes by:

  • implication
  • inaccuracy
  • ambiguity
  • exaggeration
  • unrealistic claim
  • omission
  • false representation or otherwise

Guidelines to the ‘Truthful Presentation’ Rule

  • Advertisers must hold evidence to substantiate all claims made in an advertisement.
  • Evidence included must be easily understood.
  • Disclaimers, asterisked, footnoted or “small print” information must not contradict the claims that they qualify.  The information must be obvious, and located and presented in such a way as to be clearly and easily read and/or heard. Where appropriate, the information must be linked to the relevant part of the main message.
  • Advertisers must not suggest that their claims are universally accepted if there is a significant division of informed or scientific opinion.
  • Advertisers must be able to meet any reasonable demand created by their advertising.
  • Pricing information must be clear, accurate, unambiguous and must not mislead.

Why does this concern Stuff?

The ASA states that ‘the responsibility to be aware of and comply with all aspects of advertising regulation is shared between all the parties to an advertisement, including the advertiser, agencies and media organisations.’ 

If Stuff publishes ads that breach the Advertising Standards Code our brand safety reputation is compromised. Consumer confidence in our mastheads is also undermined.

What Happens if an Ad Breaches the ASA Code?

If an ad is found to be in breach of the ASA Codes, it must be removed and/or amended. This request is made to the advertiser, agency and media directly after Complaints Board meetings. 

There is an excellent rate of compliance for this process (that is essentially voluntary). All decisions are also released to the media, and often receive considerable publicity. Negative publicity can be detrimental to a company or organisation.

Regulatory authorities may also choose to prosecute advertisers for serious breaches against the Code. 

These authorities include:

  • Commerce Commission 
  • Medsafe 
  • Financial Markets Authority

What are the Guidelines for Advocacy Advertising?

Stuff wants to ensure advocacy advertisements do not breach the Advertising Standards Code. Please ensure your advertisements follow these guidelines:  

1. LABELLING ADVERTORIAL: Advertorial styled ads must be labelled with a header ‘Advertisement’ at the top and a footer ‘This is an advertisement and does not reflect the endorsement of the masthead’ at the bottom in 14 pt font. The Ad must also have a border around the content. 

2. ADVERTISER IDENTIFICATION: The identity of the advertiser must be obvious and easily recognised. If the advertiser is not well known, the ad must include the contact details of the person or organisation placing the ad, which includes the name, and address or website. This information must be clearly and easily seen in the ad. 

3. SUBSTANTIATED FACTS: The person placing the Advocacy ad must be able to substantiate factual information and other claims in the ad. e.g. What is the evidence? It is from academic studies or from an expert opinion? Is the evidence easily accessible for people viewing the ad? Do these facts seem appropriate and reasonable?

4. OPINION VS FACT: Opinion in support of the advertiser’s position must be clearly distinguishable from factual information.

5. AUTHORISATION: “Authorised by” should only be used where required by law.

6. CLARITY: It must be clear in the ad what view the advertiser advocates. Ideally this should be clear in their identity e.g. an ad stating ‘Contact the Fluoridation Foundation for information on fluoridation’ would not qualify. Instead the names Pro-Fluoridation Foundation or Anti-Fluoridation Foundation are acceptable along with a clear statement in the ad about its purpose – “Stop Fluoridation Now” or Support Fluoridation in the Referendum”.

7. WHERE IS ADVERTISING PLACED?: Is it an unrestricted medium? Then take care with the images and language used to avoid offence.

8. CONSUMER TAKEOUT: The ASA will place more importance on the consumer takeout of the advertisement versus the intended advertiser message.

9. USING EXAGGERATION OR HYPERBOLE: Ensure the audience understand the level of humour or exaggeration used.

If you have any further questions or would like advice on your advertisement please contact your Stuff Media Consultant.