The veterinary profession is an honourable profession based on standing and dignity. In section 4(1)(c) of the Para-Veterinary Professions Act 19 of 1982 (“The Vets’ Act”) it is stated that a veterinary professional (“a person practising a veterinary profession as a veterinarian or veterinary specialist”) has a moral obligation to serve the public to the best of his ability. The Vets’ Act goes on further to state that veterinary professionals are all working for the same good cause and this sometimes requires members of the profession to co-operate with each other and the authorities to promote that cause. The profession is highly regulated by legislation, rules and codes, leaving very little room for freedom of advertising as the rules portraying to advertising are clearly set out and extremely restrictive.
In terms of the Vets’ Act an advertisement means:
“any form of communication in the media or any other visual of verbal announcement by a veterinary professional or veterinary group, whether paid for or not, which is intended to be read, heard or seen by members of the public with a view to direct attention to the services provided by such veterinary professional or veterinary group;”
A couple other, relevant definitions are as follows:
"computer-accessed communication" means any communication made by or on behalf of a veterinary professional or veterinary group that is disseminated through the use of a computer or related electronic device, including, but not limited to, web sites, weblogs, search engines, electronic mail, banner advertisements, pop-up and pop-under advertisements, chat rooms, list servers, instant messaging, or other internet presences, and any attachments or links related thereto.
"veterinary group" for the purposes of advertising means any representative group recognised by the Council. The Council shall on application recognise any group of veterinary professionals formed in terms of a memorandum of association and regulated by a constitution, representing at least 50% (fifty) plus 1 (one) of all registered veterinary professionals within a clearly defined geographical area or within a special veterinary field.
The Veterinary Rules, which govern the profession, create clear and restrictive rules for veterinary professionals with regards to advertising. These rules flow from the principles that this is an honourable profession and the members of the profession should work together to uphold the honour of the profession. Rule 4(1)(c) places a restriction on a veterinary professional in that a veterinary professional is forbidden to seek any personal advantage at the expense of any member of the veterinary profession and must promote the interests of the veterinary profession and its members.
However, veterinary professions are not completely banned from advertising, it just means that when advertising that they need to abide by strict regulations and rules. Rule 15 deals with advertising specifically. There are no limitations on advertising services, products and facilities of a veterinary profession relating to the following aspects:
- The size
- Artistic or literary style
- However, the content of an advertisement is limited by Rule 15(3) to the following:
- The name of the veterinary professional and his logo
- It may contain a description of the nature of the services offered by the veterinary professional and the products and merchandise that he stocks and sells. The address where he reders such services and sells such products and merchandise.
- When his practice will be open and these services may be rendered
- Prices of products, merchandise and foodstuffs sold and services that do not pertain specially to the veterinary profession rendered at the facility may be advertised and it is allowed to use the word “discount” But the advertisement’s subject matter cannot be the services provided by a veterinary professional.
However, the advertisement, in terms of Rule 15(1), may not compromise or impair:
“(a) the client’s freedom to consult a veterinary professional of his/her choice; and”
“(b) the good reputation of the veterinary profession.”
And Rule 15(7) forbids an advertisement to be misleading in any way and it is not allowed to compare products and services of a veterinary professional with that of another veterinary profession, nor may it claim to be superior in any respect. Rule 15 (7) (c) goes on to forbid that an advertisement contain a criticism relating to the quality services and products of another veterinary professional. No advertisement may contain fees which relate to the services provided by the veterinary profession which forms part of the subject of that advertisement.
An interesting further restriction on advertising is contained in Rule 15(12) in that a veterinary professional may not use pop-up advertisements unless it is on their own website. If a veterinary is identified in any way in an article (which is assumed includes an online article) then an advertisement by that vet is not allowed to appear on the same page as the article. What makes this interesting is that what happens in a scenario where a veterinary posts an article which he wrote or in which he feature on his website? It seems that when looking at the strict regulations regarding advertising that it will then be forbidden by the veterinary to advertise on his website on pages where he has posted an article which he wrote or articles in which he is featured.
Rule 16(1) contains a specific restriction in that the name of a veterinary professional may not be used in the following advertisements:
- An advertisement to promote an article or a product which is or may be used in connection with the practising of a veterinary profession. This basically reaffirms rule 15(12) above.
- An advertisement in connection with any place at which animals are sold or boarded
- An advertisement in connection with any business or trade in which he/she has an interest or is employed in a capacity other than as a veterinary professional
Furthermore, it is required that advertisements must be in good taste specifically when it comes to the content, prominence and medium and may not be offensive to any culture, religion or to the veterinary profession.
What About Social Marketing?
These rules present a challenge for vets who would like to make use of the social Web to market their services. Can a veterinary professional create a Facebook Page, tweet about something of interest or even publish a blog with posts about topics her clients would be interested in or should know about?
We're exploring this and have a few ideas about how these professionals can use the social Web to promote themselves and their work. We hope to run these ideas past the Council and will publish an update once we have some clarity.