The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is the UK’s advertising regulator. It makes sure the ads placed across UK media stick to the rules.
The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) is the twin organisation and is in charge of writing the necessary advertising codes of conduct. Both the ASA and CAP claim they are committed to regulating in a transparent, proportionate, targeted, evidence-based way and hope to be seen as consistent and accountable.
About the ASA
The declared mission of the ASA is to make every UK advertisement responsible, correct, targeted and of course, accurate.
The ASA responds to complaints and concerns from consumers competing for business and will take action to ban ads which are hurtful, offensive, irresponsible and/or misleading. That explained, the ASA monitor advertisements to ensure that all are following the rules the CAP sets.
For over 50 years, the ASA have existed in one form or another and initially concentrated on broadcast advertising. Their remit was extended in 2011 and now includes claims made by companies on their own internet-based campaigns where those campaigns are using websites or social media.
In a study in 2017, it revealed that the ASA resolved over 29,000 complaints relating to around 16,000 ads. In addition, they resolved 5,000 other cases as a result of their own observations.
As a result, 4,584 ads were either changed or removed and 72% of them concerned misleading inferences or statements. It is therefore a fact, that they are needed and can become a possible platform for insisting on heavy fines in the event the rules are breached.
Despite claiming to be independent the ASA members represent the advertising industry, covering advertisers, media owners and agencies. Surprisingly they also offer their membership authoritative advice and guidance on how to create an advertisement.
All adverts in the UK are under a ‘self-regulation’ or ‘co-regulation’ which means the work the ASA do is funded by the advertising industry. When considering the saying “he who pays the piper” their claims of independence might be slightly inaccurate or overly egging the pudding.
The term self/co-regulation converts to the fact that the advertising industry also writes the rules in CAP that they have to stick to.
Note: - Non-broadcast advertising, including newspapers, posters, websites, social media, cinema, emails, leaflets, billboard, is covered by self-regulation.
Co-regulation is a further arrangement the ASA has with the communications regulator, Ofcom, who gave the ASA the responsibility to regulate TV and radio advertising.
In 2014, Ofcom announced the agreement it has with the ASA will be extended until 2024.
The ASA does respond to complaints and checks ads across media to make sure members are sticking to the rules.
What happens before an ad is published?
The Advertising Code requires advertisers to have evidence to prove the claims they make before those claims are published or aired.
If it is judged an advert has broken the advertising rules, then it must be withdrawn or amended.
In 2013 Trading Standards took over from the Office of Fair Trading as the ASA’s ‘legal backstop’ on the non-broadcast side. On the broadcast side, Ofcom acts as the ‘legal backstop’.