The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP) recently released their annual report (PDF).
The report details the complaints the body has received about adverts in the last year. It’s therefore useful reading for anyone who produces advertising or marketing materials – whether or not you’re also regulated by another body.
Who are the ASA and CAP?
The CAP sets rules for advertising in the UK. Alongside the ASA – which polices and enforces advertising standards – the CAP Code delivers ‘regulation for non-regulated firms’. Any company advertising in the UK, even if not governed by an industry body like the Financial Conduct Authority – needs to abide by its rules.
In this blog from late last year, we look in more detail at how to comply with the CAP’s code.
What does the annual report say?
The 2016 Annual Report, released on 21 April, looks at what ads have fallen short of the expected standards over the last 12 months.
It also details how the ASA/CAP’s workload has changed in recent years.
Advertising complaints in 2016
- The ASA resolved 28,521 complaints about 16,999 ads
- 4,824 ads were changed or withdrawn as a result of ASA and CAP action (a record year and a 5% increase on 2015)
- CAP delivered 281,061 pieces of training and advice to industry to help companies and organisations get their ads right (another record year and a 10% increase on 2015)
- Enforcement saw 8 websites taken down, one successful prosecution of an alternative therapy provider following referral to Trading Standards (the ASA and CAP’s legal backstop), and two arrests pending prosecution
An increasing focus on digital – website and social media ads
2016 saw the five year anniversary of the ASA and CAP extending the rules to online advertising . This covers companies’ and other organisations’ advertising claims on their own websites and on social media – for example on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
In 2016, work on these ads comprised almost half of their workload.
The Annual Report reveals the impact of that change, showing that in the last five years:
- The ASA has resolved 41,383 complaints about 36,872 online ‘advertiser-owned’ ads
- Those ads accounted for 1 in 3 complained about to the ASA
- 88% of complaints about online ‘advertiser-owned’ ads were about misleading ads, compared to 73% for complaints across all media
Increasingly blurred line between online/offline, paid-for/‘earned’ promotions
The regulatory challenges posed by this huge growth in online promotions are outlined in the report.
It says that ‘the lines between offline and online and between paid-for, ‘owned’ and ‘earned’ advertising [are] becoming increasingly blurred’.
This has led to an increase in the amount of training the ASA and CAP offer to organisations that advertise online, designed to help them to get their ads right in the first place.
The changing scope of advertising creates challenges
Because the nature of advertising is changing, the challenges facing regulators are growing.
Guy Parker, the ASA Chief Executive, says in his introduction to the report that: “We now encounter messages from brands and organisations on websites, on social media platforms, in vlogs, blogs, postings and tweets and even in sponsored online articles. Despite the rapid technological change, one thing has remained constant: we expect to be able to trust every ad we see or hear.”
Meeting the needs of numerous regulators
All UK advertisers come under the ASA and CAP’s remit. If you’re also regulated by an industry-specific body – for example, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), Solicitors’ Regulation Authority or Prudential Regulation Authority – you will have an additional layer of requirements to meet.
There are similarities between many of the best practice guidelines from the various regulators. The FCA, for example, is working to ensure marketing promotions and communications meet the needs of vulnerable consumers.
The ASA and CAP say in the report that they ‘seek to balance the protection of vulnerable audiences with the freedom of others to see and hear about things they might like’.
Similarly, one of the ASA/CAPs areas of focus in 2016 is ‘Helping claims management companies stick to the rules’ – something that would also be close to the heart of the FCA.
Learning from 2016’s results
The full 2016 Annual Report is available on the ASA website. Reading it gives a good insight into the issues, sectors and approaches that have been brought to the regulator’s attention this year.
If you are unsure how your activities fit within the rules, please take advantage of our Copy Advice service. Our fast and confidential service is essential for advertisers, agencies, media owners/providers, who want to check how their prospective advertisements (broadcast and non-broadcast) measure up against the UK Advertising Codes.