What can marketers learn from the ASA and CAP Annual Report?

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This week, the ASA/CAP annual report was released.

What does it tell marketers about advertising compliance, and what lessons can we take away from it?

Who are the ASA and CAP?

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is the UK’s independent regulator of advertising across all media.

The Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) write the UK Advertising Codes and provide authoritative guidance on the rules.

Together, the two bodies regulate all UK advertising – whether online or off.

They set out their mission as:

“Together, we work to make ads responsible. We do this by taking action against misleading, harmful or offensive advertising and ensuring compliance across all sectors. We believe responsible ads are good for people, society and businesses. Our ambition is to make every UK ad a responsible ad.”

Whether or not you’re governed by an industry body like the Financial Conduct Authority, if you advertise in the UK, you also need to abide by the CAP rules. You can read more about what this means in our blog on How to comply with the CAP code.

What are the ASA and CAP focusing on?

In November last year, the ASA/CAP outlined their 5-year strategy, which took ‘online impact’ as its theme. This focus on online activity is also evident in the annual report released this week.

The same theme follows through into the annual review. ASA chairman, David Currie, says in his introduction that ‘protecting the public online is one of the great challenges of the day’.

Online advertising plays an increasing role in marketing campaigns – and therefore in the work of the regulator. 90% of the 10,850 ads or campaigns the ASA needed to amend or remove in 2018 appeared online, either in whole or in part. Online cases outnumbered those based on television ads by three to one.

The ASA has historically been tough on online ads. Adverts for gambling and unhealthy foods, where the advertiser hadn’t done enough to ensure they weren’t shown to children, have all fallen foul of the advertising regulator.

What did the ASA achieve in 2018?

  • The ASA resolved 33,727 complaints in 2018
  • 98% of these were from the public
  • These related to 25,259 ads…
  • …72% of which were reported for being potentially misleading
  • ASA action led to 10,850 ads being withdrawn, 53% more than in 2017 and a 221% increase in the last 5 years

What did CAP achieve in 2018?

  • The Committees of Advertising Practice delivered 535,478 pieces of advice and training to businesses
  • This was up 38% from 2017
  • Its copy advice service – which provides advice on acceptable ad content – answered 6,258 queries from businesses

6 strands of the ASA/CAP strategy

The report details the 6 stands of activity set out in the ASA/CAP 5-year strategy:

  1. The ASA will put people first – which in practice means listening to and engaging with everyone, not just those who complain to them, and taking account of growing divisions in society. Trust and favourability towards advertising are falling; the regulator will use data and evidence to decide where to focus its efforts.
  2. Online – as well as focusing on misleading content and inappropriate targeting, the regulator will work with big platforms to find ways to stop irresponsible ads from reaching people. There is a widespread lack of awareness that the ASA regulates ads online, and that this includes claims on firms’ own websites.
  3. Effectiveness – the ASA aims to deliver ‘high quality, proactive regulatory projects’ that focus on ads which cause the most detriment. It will prioritise better and use machine learning to improve its regulation. It recognises that its push for an increased profile and greater awareness may lead to an increase in engagement – the ASA will need to focus its limited resources to respond.
  4. Buy-in – the regulator hopes to get better buy-in from online-only advertisers, retailers, brands and others. Some online-only advertisers see the ASA as part of the system they are trying to disrupt, and therefore do not engage with its aims and rules. Not all advertisers realise that the online platforms they use count as ‘advertising’.
  5. Enforcement – the regulator will improve the way it identifies and removes irresponsible ads, particularly online, and review the way it sanctions those who don’t comply.
  6. Independence – the ASA will continue to regulate based on evidence and will demonstrate the effectiveness of its approach. It will respond positively to suggested improvements.

Regulation in a digital age

The report also touches on the digital technology used to keep pace with a digitalised advertising world. For instance, using avatars to mimic the online behaviour of children and identify ads targeting or appearing to children, against the Advertising Code.

Over a two-week period, the seven avatars used by CAP made 196,000 visits to popular websites including YouTube, and captured details of the 95,000+ ads they saw. This has led to ASA action to ban ads from five gambling operators that appeared on child-focused sites, including colouring-in and dress-up game sites.

Helping consumers to recognise ads online is another strand of the ASA/CAP’s work. Ads online need to be clearly signposted. This can be particularly important in posts, websites or other content shared by influencers – another target area for the advertising regulator.

Getting a fair deal for consumers

This is another key focus of the report, and for marketers regulated by the FCA, will be very familiar. Producing financial promotions that are clear, fair and not misleading is an essential element of complying with the FCA’s rules.

The ASA/CAP report mentions ticket re-selling sites, unfair delivery charges and small print in TV ads as three areas where they are working to give consumers a fair deal. As we reported a couple of weeks ago, small print is also the focus of a new campaign by the Competition and Markets Authority.

You can read the full ASA/CAP report on their website.

If you want more tips and advice on ensuring your approach to advertising is compliant – whether or not your promotions fall under the scope of an industry regulator – you might want to download our whitepaper on Compliance for non-regulated businesses. The whitepaper’s free, and you can get a copy from our resource library.

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Nothing in this document should be treated as an authoritative statement of the law. Action should not be taken as a result of this document alone. We make no warranty and accept no responsibility for consequences arising from relying on this document.