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 General Facts About The Advertising Standards Authority

General Facts About The Advertising Standards Authority

November 10, 2008

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) regulates the content of advertisements, sales promotions and direct marketing in the UK.  The ASA is tasked to apply the advertising standards codes. (The principle code is the British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (the CAP code).  The ASA aims to ensure that standards are kept high by applying the advertising standards codes to advertisers. Its key role is to stop misleading, harmful or offensive advertising and ensuring that any sales promotions are run fairly.

 The consequences of breaching the code of the Advertising Standards Authority ASA are that your advertisement is removed or have to be modified. The ASA takes the view that if the core principles of the CAP codes are upheld and advertisers react to problems, there is no real likelihood in the majority of instances to suffer any significant sanctions. The main concern for advertisers is not the ASA intervening per se, but the damage to reputation of having a public document regarding their practices available to the general public, and competitors.  Some other points to note about ASA are:

  • The ASA investigates complaints made about ads, sales promotions or direct marketing. Anyone can complain, and most complaints are made through the complaints form on their website. 90% are from the general public, although 10% are from competitors. The ASA does however investigate advertisements its finds to be in breach as well.
  • The ASA publishes their adjudications on complaints weekly, which is seen as the deterrent for advertisers to ensure that they are compliant with the code.
  • In the majority of cases, if a complaint is upheld, the ASA simply ask for the advertisement to not be shown again, with the part which they find to be in breach of the code removed. In nearly all cases however, on receipt of a complaint, the advertisers will pull the advertisement.
  • The ASA often reaches a decision on a matter long after an initial complaint has been received. The ASA are credited for their speed in deciding whether or not they will investigate a matter, but the time scale to the adjudication decision is often long after an advertisement has reached the end of its cycle. Often the offending advertisement that is in breach of the code continues to run with no real sanctions other than the negative publicity generated some time later.
  • Advertisers look at complaints with the PR aspect in mind, and will usually avoid the problem by removing the advert, regardless of whether or not the ASA ultimately uphold a complaint received.

The advertising standards codes

  • The main principles of the advertising standards codes are that ads should not mislead, cause harm, or offend.
  • The advertising standards codes are separated out into codes for TV, radio and all other types of ads. There are also rules for Teletext ads, Interactive ads and the scheduling of television ads.
  • There are specific rules for certain products and marketing techniques. These include rules for alcoholic drinks, health and beauty, children, motoring, environmental claims, gambling, direct marketing and prize promotions.
  • The advertising industry takes responsibility for writing the advertising standards codes and enforcing ASA rulings through the Committee of Advertising Practice, which represents the main industry bodies representing advertisers, agencies and media owners.
  • The ASA is funded by a levy of 0.1% on display advertising and airtimeand 0.2% on Royal Mail Mailsort contracts. The levies are collected by two collection agencies called Asbof and Basbof.

Enforcing ASA decisions

  • When the ASA upholds complaints most advertisers agree to change or remove the ad. Media owners agree not to run ads that breach the codes
  • If an advertiser persistently flouts the rules they can report the advertiser Office of Fair Trading and Ofcom. They will, for example, refer an advertiser to Ofcom if a licensee is not sticking to the rules, or they may refer an advertiser, agency or publisher to the OFT if they persistently run misleading ads that breach the Codes.