Advertising of any kind is a key source of information for consumers. You have the right to receive accurate and truthful information about products and services.
There are laws in place to protect you from being misled about products and services. Businesses are not allowed to make statements in advertising that are incorrect or likely to create a false impression – see ‘Rules banning misleading advertising’ below.
Avertising laws apply to all types of communications that promote products or services including:
- Digital (online banners, websites and social platforms)
- Radio and tv
- Leaflets or brochures and direct marketing
What is an advert?
Today, businesses have more options for marketing products and services than the traditional forms of advertising, which were print adverts in newspapers, television and radio commercials, and signs in shops. Newer advertising methods include:
- Sending a message or promotion by email or text
- Digital advertising on websites, apps, social media (Facebook, Twitter or Instagram) and search engines (Google, Yahoo, or Bing)
- Paying for website content, for example, a travel article that mentions their brand
- Providing a product or service to a popular blogger or influencer for free or at reduced price in return for encouraging followers to try it
Rules banning misleading advertising
The rules covering advertising in Ireland are set out under both legislation and codes of practice. The main law covering advertising in Ireland is the Consumer Protection Act 2007. This protects consumers from misleading or false advertising.
Under the Act, it is an offence for a business to make false claims about products, services or prices. Enforcement bodies can take action against a business that does not comply with the rules – see ‘Who is responsible for enforcing the rules?' ’ below for more details.
The Consumer Protection Act also recognises the various codes of practices that are published and enforced by regulatory bodies. Where a business does not follow the code of practice, the regulatory body can tell the business to amend or withdraw the advert. Find out more about the Consumer Protection Act 2007.
What is misleading advertising?
Misleading or false advertising is advertising that deceives or is likely to deceive you, or distort your decision to buy. An advert can also be misleading if it leaves out important information that you might need to make an informed decision.
Examples of how adverts can be misleading include:
- False claims made about the characteristics of products and services - for example, a product weighs 900g instead of 1 Kg
- The price, or the way it is calculated, is misrepresented – for example, the product is advertised at sale prices but turns out not to be
- How a products or service is supplied is misrepresented – for example, it is advertised as ‘free delivery' but there is actually a fee or charge
- Details about the advertiser or trader are false – for example, claiming to be an ‘Irish based company' but is actually based abroad
- Creating a false impression even if the information is correct
Who is responsible for enforcing the rules?
There are a number of regulatory bodies who are responsible for enforcing the rules around misleading advertising.
Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI)
The Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI) is an independent self-regulatory body set up and financed by the advertising industry. Its role is to promote high standards of advertising and sales promotion. It publishes a Code of Standards for Advertising and Marketing Communications (the ASAI Code). You can complain to the ASAI about misleading or false advertising. If a member breaches the code, they can be directed by the ASAI to remove or change the advert.
The ASAI Code
Under the ASAI Code, adverts should:
- Be legal, decent, honest and truthful
- Be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society
- Respect the principles of fair competition generally accepted in business
- Respect the spirit as well as the letter of the Code of Advertising Standards
- Avoid bringing advertising into disrepute
The code applies to many different forms of advertising including:
- Adverts in newspapers, magazines and other printed publications, including "free sheets"
- Posters and other promotional media in public places, including moving images and digital screens
- Brochures, leaflets, circulars, mailings, email and text transmissions
- Commercials broadcast on television or radio or screened in cinemas
- Ads carried on any digital and electronic storage materials, media and computer systems including online advertisements
- Sales promotion material
- Advertisement features and promotions
Since 2016, the code contains new rules on the advertising of e-cigarettes, gambling, food, advertising targeted at children, health and beauty and environmental claims. The ASAI also issue guidelines to help businesses to comply with the code and to raise standards in advertising. For example, in 2019, the ASAI issued guidelines on advertising of mobile phone and broadband services.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC)
The CCPC is an independent statutory body with responsibility for enforcing competition and consumer protection law in Ireland.
The Consumer Protection Act gives the CCPC certain enforcement powers when there is a breach of consumer legislation or fair trading. This includes the power to take court action, where appropriate, against businesses that have misled consumers with misleading or false advertising.
You can complain to the CCPC if you believe that an advert is misleading or false and this had a major effect on your decision to buy. The CCPC website has more information about misleading advertising and its role in consumer protection enforcement.
Other enforcement bodies
There are also different regulatory bodies for specific types of advertising. These include:
- Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) – The BAI is the regulator of broadcasting in Ireland and publishes its own code of practice. You can submit a complaint if you see or hear something on Irish TV or radio that is not compliant with the BAI Code.
- Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) - ComReg is the regulator for the electronic communications and postal sectors. It has a Code of Practice that regulates premium rate telecommunications services (products or services you can buy using your phone credit or paid through your telephone bill). Find out more about premium rate services.
- Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) – The FSAI is a statutory independent body dedicated to protecting the public health and consumer interests in the area of food safety and hygiene. It works with the ASAI and issues guidelines setting out rules for the advertisement of food products. It also deals with complaints from consumers about misleading food information.
- Central Bank of Ireland – The Central Bank is responsible for safeguarding monetary and financial stability and to ensure the sector operates in the best interests of consumers and the wider economy. Its role includes enforcing additional rules on the advertisement of financial services and credit. Rules on advertising financial products are set out in the Consumer Protection Code and the Consumer Protection Code for Licensed Moneylenders. You can read a summary of the advertising rules in the Central Bank’s consumer guide to the Consumer Protection Code (pdf). You can find out more about the advertising of credit.
If you think you have been misled, you can find out more about how to complain about advertising.
You can find out more about consumer protection organisations.