Advertisements and marketing

An advertisement includes every form of advertisement or notice or marketing material, whether aimed at members of the public or a specialised audience, including:

  • in a newspaper or other publication
  • by television or radio
  • by display of notices
  • signs
  • labels
  • show-cards or goods
  • by distribution of samples
  • circulars
  • catalogues
  • price lists or other material
  • by exhibition of pictures
  • three-dimensional models or filmed material.

Most written and other material published by a service provider is likely to count as an advertisement if its aim is to tell customers or service users about a service.

A service provider is allowed to target advertising material at a particular group of people, including a group who share a particular protected characteristic.

For example:

  • A mortgage company advertises a product as particularly suitable for women by advertising that borrowers can take payment holidays if they take maternity leave.
  • A bar advertises in a newspaper mostly bought by lesbian or gay women and gay men.
  • A barber has flyers printed only advertising haircuts and listing prices for men.
  • A community organisation makes it clear on its website that the lunch club it runs is aimed at older people from a particular ethnic background.
  • A sporting club advertises that particular sessions are targeted at introducing disabled people to its sport.

But, unless services are covered by one of the exceptions to equality law, an advertisement must not tell you that, because of a particular protected characteristic, you cannot use the service or would not be welcome to use the service, or would receive worse terms in using the service.

For example:

  • If someone advertising a service (for example, by putting a notice in a shop window) makes it clear in the advert that people from a particular ethnic group are not welcome as customers, this would amount to direct discrimination because of race against people who might have considered using the service but are deterred from doing so because of the advertisement.
  • A flyer for a nightclub offering women free admission while men are charged for entry would probably be unlawful.
  • An advertisement that said ‘unsuitable for disabled people’ would probably be unlawful.

However, a service provider does not have to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people in advertising its services.

For example:

If a business advertises in a newspaper, it does not have to put out an equivalent advertisement on the radio just because disabled people with a visual impairment may not have been able to read the written advertisement.

Equality good practice: what to look for

Even though organisations do not have to make reasonable adjustments when they are advertising their services, they can do this if they want to, for example, by advertising in ways that will be accessible to disabled people with a range of impairments, such as providing Easy Read information for people with a learning disability.

More information

Last Updated: 30 Dec 2014