Who:The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)
Where: United Kingdom
When: 8 September 2022
Law stated as at: 10 October 2022
The use of quick response (QR) codes within marketing campaigns has become widespread since the Covid-19 pandemic as a means for brands to add an edge to their customer experience by instantly providing further information to consumers where an ad has caught their eye.
However, while QR codes are an entirely legitimate direct response mechanism, the ASA has turned its attention to the compliance of these efficient access tools with advertising rules and requirements, so we have set out below some of the key related risks for marketers to consider.
1. Avoid misleading consumers:
Given the ability of QR codes to immediately bring a customer from one page to another without much context, marketers must take care to ensure that they are not breaching the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code) and UK Code of Broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (BCAP Code)’s misleading advertising rules.
The initial advert presented to consumers must set expectations by providing sufficient information to allow them to assess what the outcome of enquiring further will be, as well as an understanding of the content they will be accessing. Marketers can set expectations by stating, for example, “scan this QR code to see offers, key features and videos” or “scan this QR code to download our app”.
Where QR codes are being used within adverts for discounts or promotions, marketers must ensure that, while a full set of terms and conditions can be linked to from a QR code, all significant conditions to the offer are included within the initial advert. For example, if a marketer is using QR codes to offer discounts from print ads, marketers should clarify the dates of the promotion and any stock limitations and relevant exclusions within the print ad itself. ASA guidance also notes that ads should make clear the extent of all financial commitments to which a QR code might link.
2. Take care where QR codes are linking to sensitive product categories:
Advertisers need to be mindful that the ASA will consider the wider context within which an ad appears, including the content within any links to which an advert leads. The CAP Code and BCAP Code include sensitive product category rules in relation to gambling, alcohol, e-cigarettes, lotteries and food and soft drink products high in fat, salt or sugar. These rules prohibit adverts from being placed in media for children and young people (or other media where they are disproportionately present in the audience). As such, marketers should ensure that QR codes do not result in these product categories being presented to such audiences. Where sensitive product categories are being linked to, this should be disclosed or referred to within the initial advert.
3. Ensure that content is age appropriate
It is vital that marketers are conscious of CAP and BCAP Code rules relating to children. QR codes should not be used by advertisers to link younger viewers to content that is scary, sexualised or otherwise inappropriate, in accordance with the CAP and BCAP Codes. The ASA guidance gives the example of an ad including a short teaser of a movie trailer, which links through to a fuller version including such content.
Why this matters:
Post-pandemic, the use of QR codes has become widespread and whilst QR codes are an innovative means of taking consumers from an originating ad in any media to further information about products and promotional offers, marketers must take particular care not to mislead their customers, link to sensitive product categories or present content which is not age appropriate to younger audiences.