The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has published a mid-year progress report looking back over the key issues concerning both the ASA and consumers in the first half of 2016, and looking forward to its 2017 objectives.

2016, so far

The report begins by analysing how the ASA is fairing in relation to its 2016 objectives: prioritising activity; increasing advice and training; ensuring joined-up regulation, increasing public reach, increasing awareness, enchaining skills and capabilities and investing in technologies.

Notably, between January and June 2016 the ASA secured the amendment or withdrawal of 1,598 ads in its attempt to tackle the ongoing issue of irresponsible advertising. Meanwhile the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) delivered 137,706 pieces of advice and training in its attempts to address the root causes of irresponsible advertising.

Tackling broadband pricing claims has been a major project for the ASA so far in 2016 and following increased consumer complaints, the ASA has now launched projects exploring gender stereotyping in ads and a further inspection of whether additional action is required to prevent broadband users from being misled by maximum speed claims.

2017, the focus to come

Looking forward the ASA has now set out its objectives for 2017 which seek to respond “appropriately to the changing technological, media and post-EU referendum economic/political landscape.”

The 2017 objectives repeat in some cases those laid down in 2016 and re-align the focus of others following progress that has been made in 2016.

The seven specific objectives are as follows:

  1. Balancing reactive and proactive work. The ASA seeks to maintain a balance between proactive regulatory project work and reactive complaints casework. In particular, the ASA will attempt to refine its use of research and other intelligence in 2017 in order to improve the effectiveness of its regulatory project work (e.g. the abovementioned projects relating to gender stereotyping and broadband speed claims).
  2. Increasing advice and training. A recurrence of the 2016 objective, the ASA will implement the findings of its review of the CAP advice and training services and will seek to increase its advice and training "touch points" to 300,000.
  3. Providing joined-up regulation. Another echo of 2016’s objectives, in 2017 the ASA will aim to increase its understanding of and collaboration with other stakeholders, regulators and enforcement regimes. The third parties mentioned in the report in particular are digital/media’ platform owners and Primary Authorities. The aim here is to ensure a joined-up, consistent and effective regulation is provided. In addition the ASA has committed to acting on the findings of the independent audit of its own performance.
  4. Delivering public research commitments. The ASA has proposed undertaking two to four pieces of research concerning the views of the public about ads during 2017 and will carry on ensuring that it continues to take into account the views and interests of those who live in different parts of the UK.
  5. Building confidence. The ASA will accelerate its ongoing efforts to build awareness of its own system so that the public have confidence in advertising regulation. This will include the launch of a new public ad campaign in 2017.
  6. Enhancing skills and capabilities. Another repeat of its 2016 objectives, the ASA will make sure it has the skills, capability and IT training to deliver its strategy with a particular focus on improving its understanding of emerging technologies.
  7. Investing in technology. The ASA will launch a new case/contact management system.

The key message to broadcasters and advertisers

The ASA seems to be increasingly focused on the public conscious throughout the UK. It is responding more quickly and effectively to consumer complaints and queries and in its attempts to build consumer confidence will continue to do so. Advertisers and broadcasters should continue to keep a watchful eye on the nation’s psyche and the recent ASA rulings to ensure it stays one step ahead of the regulators’ focus.