Who: Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP)
When: 31 October 2016
Law stated as at: 29 December 2016
On 31 October 2016, ASA and CAP published their mid-year 2016 progress report, which serves as a useful summary of the key regulatory developments in 2016 and sets out their 2017 objectives. As with last year’s report, this covers the key issues at a high level but often provides additional interesting details regarding key issues that haven’t always appeared in previous press releases. The report also gives a useful insight into strategic priorities for the ASA and CAP going forward.
Looking back at 2016
Highlights of the report that looked back on 2016 include the following:
- Partnership with Trading Standards
2016 saw the successful prosecution of Electronic Healing, an alternative therapies advertiser that had been referred to Trading Standards from the ASA following two upheld adjudications concerning unsubstantiated health claims. We reported on this back in September. Interestingly, though, the report reveals that the ASA referred a further 12 advertisers to Trading Standards in the first half of the year, with another early referral also resulting in an arrest and prosecution. The report also refers to the ASA’s continued work with Trading Standards in taking down websites, again showing the regulator and CAP take a much tougher stance towards compliance. These details are significant and demonstrate that this partnership is on-going and the action taken against Electronic Healing wasn’t simply a one-off. It helps tackle the criticism that the ASA often receives, of being a ‘toothless’ regulator, and sends a very serious message to non-compliant advertisers, suggesting that similar prosecutions could be on the way in 2017.
- New policy recommendations for advertising foods high in fat, sugar or salt to children
Back in May, CAP launched a public consultation regarding new food ad rules, which looked at bringing the CAP Code in line with the stricter requirements of the BCAP Code when it comes to the advertising of food and soft drink products to children. This not only addresses societal concerns surrounding childhood obesity but also reflects a change in media habits, with children spending more time online than ever before. This was a fast-moving development, with CAP then publishing new placement restrictions on 9 December 2016 with the introduction of new rules in this area. It will be interesting to see how advertisers react to this in the coming year.
- Broadband price claims
Broadband price claims have been under scrutiny for most of the year, with the ASA and Ofcom publishing joint research on this area in January and a new approach to dealing with these claims announced by the ASA in June. The mid-year report shows that this was classified as a High Priority project for the ASA and demonstrates just how quickly the regulator can react when it considers there is a need for a prompt and drastic change in regulation. Notably, the report also categorises a project on broadband speeds as being High Priority and so we expect an announcement on this to follow shortly.
Looking forward to 2017
As well as reflecting on 2016, the report sets out the objectives for the ASA and CAP in 2017. Whilst three of the seven objectives stayed the same (increasing advice and training; enhancing skills and capabilities; and investing in technology), the four new objectives help shed some light on priorities and plans for the next year:
- Balancing reactive and proactive
The ASA and CAP are formally maintaining a balance between reacting to complaints and proactively carrying out regulatory project work.
- Providing joined-up regulation
The ASA and CAP will continue increasing their understanding of and work with other stakeholders, regulators and enforcement regimes in order to deliver consistent regulation.
- Delivering public research commitments
Tying in with the emphasis on having a proactive approach, the ASA and CAP will deliver their public research commitments, taking into account views of those who live in the different nations and regions of the UK.
- Building confidence
Again, we can expect to see continued efforts to build awareness of the ASA and its role in ad regulation.
Why this matters:
This report sets out what the ASA and CAP consider to be their priorities for the next year.
After a reshuffle in priorities in 2015, it is positive to see the ASA’s first objective demonstrating a commitment to balancing its reactive and proactive approaches. This reflect the fact that the ASA and CAP’s cost share on complaints has slowly decreased over the past five years, with a steadily increasing focus on its projects work (which now takes up 16% of the direct service resource spend, in comparison to 58% on complaints casework). As is seen from the projects on broadband claims and gender stereotyping, the ASA’s new strategy, ‘Having More Impact; Being More Proactive’ is making waves in the regulatory world and it will be interesting to see which other areas will be under the spotlight for 2017.
The commitment to providing joined-up regulation (which builds on last year’s objective to ensure joined-up regulation) nods towards the continued partnership with the Trading Standards. It will also be interesting to see whether this objective may take into account bodies such as the CMA, who take a slightly different approach to CAP when it comes to ad identification requirements and the thorny issue of editorial control. Perhaps this objective might signal more work in addressing these inconsistencies.
Finally, the report subtly refers to the ASA’s relationship and engagement with the UK as a whole, with references to a deeper engagement with Scottish stakeholders (the ASA now has a desk in Edinburgh) and three pieces of research on the horizon that take into account the views of those living in the different nations and regions of the UK. This shows a thought-provoking acknowledgement that the typical ASA complainant tends to represent a very particular demographic and demonstrates the ASA and CAP taking positive steps to have a regulatory system that represents the differing and diverse views of those living across the UK.