Who: Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)
Where: United Kingdom
When: 19 May 2022
Law stated as at: 20 May 2022
The ASA has released its annual report focusing on rebalancing towards proactive ad regulation for the digital era.
The report covers a range of issues, including:
- Using data science and AI to scale up ad regulation: The vast majority of ads that were amended or withdrawn were discovered through proactive technology used by the ASA and the report makes frequent reference to the use of technology. The report also details some of the tools used by the ASA, including technology that can decide if a social media post by an influencer is likely to be an ad.
- Protecting children from age-restricted ads: The importance of using a layered approach (placement, targeting and content) to protect children from age-restricted ads. The ASA also ran a “CCTV project” to monitor 60 online sites that are disproportionately popular with children to identify ads for alcohol, gambling and products high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) that should have not appeared on such sites.
- Tougher restrictions on gambling ads: New rules will come into effect on 1 October 2022 to ensure gambling and lottery ads do not have a “strong appeal” to children. Previously, the wording used was a “particular appeal”. The “strong appeal” test prohibits content including imagery, themes and characters that strongly appeal to under-18s, which means that even those that appeal strongly to adults cannot be used.
- Ensuring “green” claims follow the rules: The ASA will continue to focus on green claims to help the UK meet its net-zero target in 2050 and will publish research on consumer understanding on carbon neutral and net zero and hybrid” and “electric” car claims in 2022.
- Potential harm caused by racial and ethnic stereotypes in ads: The ASA’s research project identified three broad potential harms: reinforcement of existing stereotypes, creating new stereotypes, and perpetuating or reinforcing racial attitudes and behaviours. The research found that ads using authenticity and personality rather than stereotypes were received more positively.
- Cracking down on irresponsible financial ads (cryptoassets and buy now, pay later): The number of ads and types of products has surged and the ASA published 12 rulings in the last year plus an enforcement notice covering 50 companies. In 2022, buy-now, pay-later ads will be under the microscope.
- Regulation of video-sharing platforms (VSPs): The ASA now works with Ofcom to regulate the content and target of ads on VSPs. More is expected to come in 2022 as part of online safety legislation and the Government’s Online Advertising Programme.
- Body image and advertising: The ASA remains committed to tackling body image harms. Recent evidence suggests that more work is required and the outcome of a call for evidence in October 2021 is expected in 2022.
- Escalating sanctions against non-compliant influencers: The ASA took further steps to address non-compliance by influencers and the ASA’s data science team will continue to scale up monitoring work to identify trends and increase proactive enforcement action.
The report also provides an update on the complaints received by the ASA in 2021. Highlights as follows:
- 20,456 ads were amended or withdrawn (the second-highest total ever).
- Online ads remained the most complained about medium (20,735 complaints – nearly half of the total)
- TV ads accrued 20,425 complaints (a 44% increase on 2020)
- Complaints about influencer posts were up 20% to 4,889, and made up almost a quarter of all cases (3,648).
- There was also a rise in complaints about other types of online ads, including video-on-demand (up 138%), paid-for ads on websites (39%) and audio podcast or on-demand (54%).
- For the first time the ASA has assessed complaints by country; proportionately, people in Scotland are more inclined to lodge complaints about ads – whether on the grounds of misleadingness, harm or offence – than people in any of the other four nations. However, this could be partly down to a national ad campaign the ASA ran across Scottish media between September 2020 and March 2021.
The most complained about ad
Tesco’s ad featuring Santa in the airport showing a vaccination passport was the most complained ad. The ad received over 5000 complaints, which argued that Santa’s vaccination passport is a deeper message about medical discrimination. The ASA at the time tweeted that the ad did not break any rules, made humorous reference to international travel rules experienced in 2021, was unlikely to be interpreted as a hidden message about travel rules or vaccines, and was unlikely to be seen as irresponsible or cause serious or widespread offence.
Why this matters: As always, advertising regulation has been applied on a case-by-case basis depending on the context of the complaint. As such, the ASA’s Annual Report is a useful resource for brands and advertisers to understand the ASA’s priorities and key objectives from the previous and for the current year. This understanding can help brands and advertisers understand the latest risks and focus of the regulator, which in turn can help develop and ensure that any upcoming advertising campaigns remain compliant