The ASA has recently published a blog highlighting the key changes in its approach to ensuring ad compliance over the last ten years.
The primary focus of both CAP and the ASA since their conception in 1961 and 1962 respectively has been, through self-regulation, to tackle misleading advertising in order to protect consumers and ensure that adverts can be trusted. Certain industries' ads were targeted from the outset, for example, beauty products, cigarettes, alcohol, high fat, salt or sugar ("HFSS") food and drink, and these evidently still remain a priority for the ASA today.
Initially focused on non-broadcast media, the ASA assumed responsibility for TV and radio ads and became "the one-stop shop for advertising complaints" in 2004.
The major shift came in 2010 when the new CAP Code and the first edition of the BCAP Code came into effect. At the same time, the ASA's responsibility for online advertising considerably widened to include all "online advertiser-owned ads", essentially any advertising on companies' websites and social media platforms. One of the key issues for the ASA then, and now, is the importance of advertising and editorial on social media platforms being clearly distinguishable.
The fact that in 2014 the internet overtook television as the most complained about medium proves how much the nature and type of advertising has changed over the years. In fact, 33% of every case resolved by the ASA in the last 5 years has been concerned with an online advertiser-owned ad.
Alongside its usual resources and training provided each year, the ASA has emphasised two areas in which they have developed nuanced approaches to ensure that advertisers are following the rules:
- Collaboration with search engine providers and social media channels – a two-pronged approach made possible with the support of search engines and social media channels. The ASA: (a) place their own ads next to ads owned by non-compliant businesses; and (b) remove advertisers' paid-for search advertising in its entirety.
- Sector targeted project work – for example ticket pricing. This involves a pro-active approach by the ASA resulting in faster change through issuing guidance, undertaking a comprehensive review of the sector, and working directly with businesses to correct misleading information online.
The update demonstrates that the ASA remains committed to its original remit – namely to protect consumers and ensure that adverts are legal, decent, honest and truthful.
It shows that the ASA is grappling to understand the changing and evolving landscape of media and technology and is prepared to take necessary steps to engage with advertisers in online spheres. The ASA is also not afraid to impose harsh sanctions for those who refuse to bring their adverts in line with their rulings. The ASA is consistently extending its scope, particularly in relation to online advertising, and the range of complaints it investigates has also broadened considerably.