Advertising Standards Authority
Within the UK there are many regulatory bodies in the media, financial services industry and legal advice sector which are there to protect the rights of the consumer. The Advertising Standards Authority is just one of these and this governs the way in which businesses use advertising to encourage consumers to purchase their products or services.
As an independent agency, it operates separately to the government and advertising industry. However, this independence does not mean that the organisation is not recognised by the courts, the government the Office of Fair Trading and the Office of Communications.
Marketing communications are everywhere, from printed magazines and newspapers through to the television and online. Therefore, when businesses use advertising to promote their products or services, they must abide by the code of conduct for marketing communications.
Typical marketing information can include;
- Press and print advertising
- Posters and Billboards
- Television advertisements
- Any advertisement that you see while browsing the internet, including banners, pop ups, commercial sales promotions and emails
- Any form of text messaging
- Direct mail including leaflets, brochures, letters, catalogues and circulars
- Competitions and special offers
- Cinema advertising
The Purpose of the Advertising Standards Authority
The Advertising Standards Authority has a number of different functions to control and monitor the way in which businesses advertise. The agency also provide a set of Advertising Codes which determine the nature and context of advertisements. Using these codes, the Advertising Standards Authority has three purposes;
- Providing Advice
- Resolving Complaints
- Conducting Research
- ASA Advice
Before the publication of any advertisement whether it is a printed, televised or digital advertisements specific advertisers, publishers or agencies are able to use the code to ensure that their ad complies with the code and its related conditions.
When a complaint or concern is raised about advertising, the codes are applied as a set of rules to determine whether the business who produced the ad breached advertising conditions
On a weekly basis the ASA conduct detailed checks to ensure that the Advertising Standards Authority Codes are being fully implemented and followed in advertising
ASA Organisational Structure
When a complaint is made the ASA will launch an investigation and this is completed through the ASA Council. This is a jury or body who will evaluate the evidence and reach a decision about whether an advertisement has breached the terms of the code. The individuals who review the complaint are not experienced or knowledgeable of the industry so are able to make more independent decisions. The ASA Council also comprises a selection of individuals from the general public such as families, charities, consumer groups and young people who can review particular issues in an unbiased manner.
Created by the advertising industry via the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) and the Committee of Advertising Practice, the advertising codes are a set of rules that anyone in the industry whether it is the print press, an agency or advertiser mist follow.
The Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice is accountable for the development and maintenance of the code for Radio and TV advertising.
The Committee of Advertising Practice is directly responsible for the codes which govern sales promotions, non-broadcast advertising and direct marketing
Under the advertising codes advertisements should not do anything which breaks the law or display behaviours which encourage others to do so. In addition, advertisers must exercise extreme caution in ad development so the content does not cause offence. Consumers must not be mislead by inaccurate advertising such as misleading pricing or the provision of testimonials which could result in ambiguity.
When it comes to preparing advertisements it must be done in a socially responsible manner. This means that an advertiser should not support antisocial behaviour or violence and the privacy of consumers should not be exploited.
Failing to obtain permission from an individual who has been portrayed in an advertisement could result in a breach of the code. Principles of fair competition must be fully complied with and an advertiser should not take advantage of the goodwill of individuals to undermine the products or services of competitors.
Alongside consumer protection laws, there is another set of rules which have been defined by law. These rules are applicable for alcoholic drinks, health and beauty, financial products, environmental issues, children, gambling, competitions, medicine and direct marketing.
Complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority
Complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority can be made by anyone, from a business through to a member of the public. The authority has the power to investigate many different complaints including;
- Advertising which is thought to be offensive, misleading or inappropriate
- Problems either receiving orders or refunds for purchases made through mail order companies or shopping channels on the television
- Unfair or misleading promotional campaigns
- Unwanted correspondence from a business. This could include anything sent by mail, email, text message or fax
- Issues relating to the collection of personal information and concerns over privacy
If the individual or business believes that they have grounds for complaint, they must put their concerns in writing either by letter sent in the post or by completing the online form. On occasions complaints can be logged over the telephone particularly when they relate to radio, television or cinema advertising or advertisements in the press or distributed on a poster.
Once complaints have been investigated and if the Advertising Standards Authority concludes that the code was breached, they can impose one of several sanctions;
- The authority can instruct the advertiser to withdraw the advertisement from circulation
- Publishers or other media outlets can be requested not to publish an advertisement until it has been suitably changed and reassessed
Once the Advertising Standards Authority have concluded their investigations they can publish any sanctions or other outcomes which will result in bad publicity that could harm the reputation of the company
In some instances any financial reductions or discounts could be withdrawn
Where offenders continue to breach the code the business can be referred to the Office of Fair Trading who could instigate legal proceedings to secure an injunction on the advertising that has breached the code.
Advertising should be fair and companies are encouraged to avoid misleading acts or omissions. The Advertising Standards Authority was put in place as a regulator to address failure to comply with the code and the authority is able to hand down sanctions for any advertiser who breaches the rules.
About the author:
This article was written by a member of the Expert Answers legal advice team. Expert Answers provides online legal advice on all aspects of UK Law to users in the United Kingdom.