Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP)
Where: United Kingdom
When: 03 June 2020
Law stated as at: 09 June 2020
On 03 June 2020, the ASA and CAP published their Annual Report for 2019 providing an overview of the ASA and CAP’s work in 2019.
Its 2018 report introduced the ASA and CAP’s five-year strategy to have more impact online and the 2019 report examines how successfully that strategy is being implemented and, more importantly and as its title states, how they are “Using Technology For Good”.
As in previous years, it was revealed that there were more complaints than ever before. In total, the ASA resolved 34,717 complaints about 24,886 ads: with 16,767 complaints about 14,775 online ads, whereas 9,971 complaints were about 5,216 TV ads. The report also highlighted that complaints about influencer advertising made up more than a quarter of all online complaints – 4,401 complaints about 3,670 ads.
Overall, the ASA managed to secure changes to, or the withdrawal of, 8,881 ads (18% less than 2018’s figure of 10,850).
Aside from highlighting the statistics from the previous year, the report demonstrated how the ASA and CAP are changing the way they work, through a combination of prioritisation (taking an “education first” approach to help deliver lighter touch regulation where appropriate), improved partnership working and proactively taking action to tackle misleading and irresponsible ads.
The ASA is keen to highlight its “world-leading” avatar monitoring project, its proactive capture and analysis of online ads using avatars that mimic the browsing of children and young people. This innovative use of technology helped the ASA catch careless targeting by gambling operators and brands promoting high fat, salt or sugar foods.
The theme of technology is prevalent throughout the report. Guy Parker, the chief executive of the ASA, confirmed that the authority is planning more investment in data science, including machine learning. It’s clear from the report that the ASA wants to become a leader in artificial intelligence (AI)-driven advertising regulation.
Mr Parker said:
“Harnessing innovative technology to tackle misleading or irresponsible ads is playing a big part in helping us deliver more effective regulation for consumers and business. And we have some exciting plans ahead, including investment in data science and machine learning. All of which is enabling us to be more proactive and fleet of foot in delivering our ambition to make UK ads responsible, wherever they appear.”
Why this matters:
ASA and CAP’s 2019 report makes clear that technology is at the forefront of their thinking. The ASA has demonstrated in this report with its avatar monitoring project that it can use technology to successfully regulate ads (albeit on a small scale).
Whether the ASA delivers a step change in advertising regulations – so that it can respond to the scale of the challenge of regulating an ever-increasing number of website and social media ads – remains to be seen. But one year into its five-year plan, the shoots of new growth look promising and the ASA may be on the right track to become a leader in AI-driven advertising regulation.