Wednesday, 28 April 2010

ASA regulations

Control of ads

Hand holding a whistleHow is advertising in the UK controlled?

Good advertising is good for consumers and good for business.

Research has shown that consumers view advertising as an integral part of everyday culture - a source of information and entertainment. However, the acceptance of advertising by consumers relies not just on its entertainment value, but also on its trustworthiness.

The UK marketing industry recognised the need for trust in advertising when it set up the advertising self-regulatory system for non-broadcast advertising in 1961. Since then, the UK’s system of self-regulation has helped to ensure advertising remains responsible: honest advertising helps to keep customers coming back. Read more about the history of the ASA.

Today, the UK advertising regulatory system is a mixture of

Broadly this means that the system is paid for by the industry, which also writes the rules, but those rules are independently enforced by the ASA.

The system is a sign of a considerable commitment by the advertising industry to uphold standards in their profession. All parts of the advertising industry – advertisers, agencies and media – have come together to commit to being legal, decent, honest and truthful in their ads.

How it works

Our aim is to keep UK advertising standards high.

Although the ASA is primarily a complaints-based regulator (we consider around 26,000 complaints a year) we don’t just wait for complaints to come in. We also work alongside CAP and BCAP to help deliver a comprehensive regulatory approach.

We undertake many other regulatory activities to ensure advertising stays within the rules. For example, the ASA in all media and regularly undertakes compliance surveys of advertisements published by sectors about which there is a particular societal concern or in sectors where compliance may be unsatisfactory.

And together with CAP and BCAP, we work to support the industry to help them get their ads right before they are published. For example by providing guidance, pre-publication advice and training for the industry.

The Codes

In the UK, the rules for advertising are written by the advertising industry through two Committees: the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP).

For more information go to The UK Advertising Standards Codes.

Find out more about CAP and BCAP and the work that they do on their website.


The system is financed by advertisers through a small voluntary levy of 0.1% on display advertising expenditure and airtime and 0.2% of the Royal Mail's Mailsort contract. The ASA receives no public funding from the tax payer.

Read more about funding in our Governance and accountability section.


The Advertising Codes require that all claims must be substantiated before being published or aired.

Broadcast Advertising

The vast majority of TV and radio ads are pre-cleared before they are broadcast.

Under their licences broadcasters must take reasonable steps to ensure that the ads they broadcast are compliant with the TV and Radio Advertising Codes.

To help them do this, the broadcasters have established and funded two pre-clearance centres:

Clearcastfor television commercials

The Radio Advertising Clearance Centre (RACC) for radio ads.

Non-broadcast Advertising

There are many millions of non-broadcast ads published every year in the UK, so it would be impossible to pre-clear every one of them. For example there are more than 30 million press advertisements and 100 million pieces of direct marketing every year.

However, lots of advice and guidance is available through CAP Copy Advice.

The CAP Copy Advice team provides free pre-publication advice to advertisers, agencies and media to help them create advertisements; promotions and direct marketing that meets the CAP Code.

As well as providing bespoke advice on individual campaigns, the team also updates a searchable online database that the advertisers, agencies and media can check to read the latest positions on hundreds of different advertising issues.

CAP also produces a free quarterly email newsletter, em>Update, to keep you up to date with all the latest developments.

Regulation after appearing

Even though many steps are taken to ensure ads are compliant before they are aired or published, consumers have the right to complain about ads they have seen, which they believe to be misleading, harmful or offensive.

The ASA can act on just one complaint. We don’t play a numbers game: our concern is whether the Codes have been breached. Of course, sometimes the number of complaints received can have an impact – this is particularly the case when we are considering matters of taste and decency.

Once we have received a complaint, the complaints team will assess the marketing communication, the nature of the objection and decide how best to resolve the complaint.

Read more about the complaints process in the Complaints & investigations process section.

Monitoring and compliance

The ASA does not just wait for complaints to be made about ads; we also proactively monitor ads to keep advertising standards high and maintain a level playing field for business. The Compliance and Monitoring team also conducts regular surveys into specific media or industry sectors to ensure the Codes are being followed in those areas.

Read more about the monitoring and compliance work in the Monitoring compliance section.


The vast majority of advertisers comply with the ASA’s rulings and they act quickly to amend or withdraw an ad that breaks theCodes. We have a range of effective sanctions at our disposal to act against the few who do not and ensure they comply with the rules. The commitment of media owners to help enforce the ASA’s rulings is also a crucial element in the effectiveness of our sanctions.

The first sanction – and one of the most powerful – is the weekly publication of our adjudications that generates a great amount of media attention in the UK, and frequently internationally. The negative publicity can significantly damage an advertiser’s reputation, particularly if it is seen to be flouting the rules designed to protect consumers and fair competition. Our rulings are published on this site for five years. Some adjudications may be available for longer if they are used as a reference in AdviceOnlineand Help Notes produced by the Committee of Advertising Practice to help advertisers interpret the Codes.

The second sanction is the refusal by media owners to feature ads that break the Codes. This means we can ask publishers not to print problematic ads, and broadcasters cannot air them.

Other sanctions exist to prevent direct mail that breaches the Code from being distributed and to reduce the likelihood of posters appearing that breach the Codes on grounds of taste and decency and social responsibility.

Ultimately, the ASA can refer non-broadcast advertisers who persistently break the Codes to the Office of Fair Trading for legal action under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008. Broadcasters who continually air ads that break the Codes can be referred to Ofcom, which has the power to fine them or even revoke their license. Such referrals are very rarely necessary as the vast majority of advertisers and media owners respect ASA decisions and agree to comply with the Codes.

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