Memorandum by the Advertising Standards
Authority (RTS 13)
ROAD TRAFFIC SPEED AND NON-BROADCAST ADVERTISING
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) was
established by the advertising industry in 1962 to supervise the
self-regulation of non-broadcast advertising. The Authority administers
the British Codes of Advertising and Sales Promotion (the Codes),
drawn up by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP). The Codes
seek to ensure that all non-broadcast advertisements and sales
promotions are legal, decent, honest and truthful. The ASA investigates
and adjudicates on complaints, and is recognised by the Office
of Fair Trading (OFT) as the "established means" for
dealing with misleading non-broadcast advertisements under the
Control of Misleading Advertising Regulations (CMARS).
The strengths of the self-regulatory system
have been recognised by the recent Consumer White Paper,
which states that "the Government strongly supports the self-regulatory
controls on advertising in the United Kingdom run by the Advertising
Standards Authority. These have gained worldwide recognition as
a good example of how self-regulation can work effectively to
address consumer problems".
Full details of the self-regulatory system,
and a copy of the Codes, are available on the ASA web site (www.asa.org.uk).
The Motoring rules within the Codes were introduced
in 1995 and seek to discourage the use of speed claims as the
main element of vehicle advertisements. This restriction applies
to written claims and to the impression of speed created by visual
elements of an advertisement. In judging the acceptability of
advertisements the ASA Council is able to apply the Codes in the
spirit as well as in the letter and their interpretation of the
Codes is final. The context in which an advertisement appears
is an important consideration. Clause 1.4(b) states that "conformity
with the Codes is assessed according to the advertisement's probable
impact when taken as a whole and in context. This will depend
on the medium in which the advertisement appeared, the audience
and their likely response, the nature of the product and any additional
material distributed to consumers".
It should be noted that the ASA has no objection
to an advertiser giving details of the capabilities of a vehicle's
performance, providing this is executed responsibly. In a free
market such information must be considered legitimate for consumers
to make informed choices between competitive products.
The Motoring section of the Codes encompasses
several issues, of which speed is an important consideration:
48.1 Advertisements for motor vehicles,
fuel or accessories should avoid portraying or referring to practices
that encourage anti-social behaviour.
48.2 Advertisers should not make speed or
acceleration claims the predominant message of their advertisements.
However, it is legitimate to give general information about a
vehicle's performance such as acceleration and mid-range statistics,
braking power, roadholding and top speed.
48.3 Advertisers should not portray speed
in a way that might encourage motorists to drive irresponsibly
or to break the law.
48.4 Vehicles should not be depicted in
dangerous or unwise situations in a way that would encourage irresponsible
driving. Their capabilities may be demonstrated on a track or
circuit provided it is clearly not in use as a public highway.
48.5 Care should be taken in cinema advertisements
and those in electronic media where the moving image may give
the impression of exceptional speed. In all cases where vehicles
are shown in normal driving circumstances on the public road they
should be seen not to exceed UK speed limits.
In addition to this, Section 10 of the Codes
includes general safety provisions, which are not specific to
vehicle advertisements but are of relevance:
10.1 Advertisements should not show or encourage
unsafe practices except in the context of promoting safety. Particular
care should be taken with advertisements addressed to or depicting
children and young people.
10.2 Consumers should not be encouraged
to drink and drive. Advertisements should, where appropriate,
include a prominent warning on the dangers of drinking and driving
and should not suggest that the effects of drinking alcohol can
FREQUENCY OF COMPLAINTS INVOLVING CARS AND
(up to 10
|Total number of complaints to ASA||12,212
|Number of complaints about car advertising
||237 (433)||276 (385)
||328 (421)||320 (428)
|Number of complaints upheld about car advertising
||46 (171)||70 (101)
||77 (89)||56 (60)
|Number of complaints about speed||25 (47)
||38 (87)||17 (25)
|Number of complaints upheld about speed
||7 (23)||11 (35)
||1 (4)||4 (7)
Figures in brackets include duplicate complaints.
As the figures in Table 1 demonstrate, complaints about car
advertising represent a very small proportion of the total number
of complaints handled by the ASA (3.4 per cent in 2000). Although
there has been an overall increase in the number of complaints
received by the ASA about car advertisements in recent years,
there has been a marked decline in the number of complaints involving
A survey of car advertising undertaken by the ASA in February
1999 found a reassuringly high proportion of advertisements were
compliant with the Codes.
The survey covered vehicle advertisements appearing between
1-14 February 1999; this period was chosen to coincide with the
release of the new "T" plate.
The sample was taken from the national press and a selection
of consumer and motoring magazines. A total of 714 advertisements
were examined and a detailed analysis of the sample showed the
1. Of the 714 ads surveyed, 650 advertisements (91 per
cent) were considered acceptable under the Codes. In 2 per cent
of cases, the whole or main platform of the advertisement broke
the Codes while technical breaches (minor problems in an otherwise
acceptable advertisement) accounted for 7 per cent.
2. Perhaps not surprisingly, 622 (87 per cent) of the
advertisements surveyed appeared in the national press.
3. Of the 64 advertisements that broke the Codes, 63
were for cars and one for a motorbike. No advertisements for commercial
vehicles were found to be unacceptable.
4. Of the 64 advertisements found to break the Codes,
61 per cent (39 advertisements) related to unclear pricing, and
17 per cent (11 advertisements) contained unacceptable speed and
An earlier survey, conducted in 1990, found that 20 per cent
of all car advertisements were making unacceptable references
to speed (by 1999 this figure had dropped to 1.5 per cent). The
1999 survey report concluded that "motor manufacturers have
made significant improvements since the late 1980's when this
sector regularly generated the highest number of complaints".
Appendix 1 contains a selection of recent ASA adjudications
involving vehicle advertising and speed, divided into two sections:
"upheld" and "not upheld". These examples
have been selected to convey the breadth of issues considered
by the Authority when dealing with complaints about speed in non-broadcast
advertising. It is hoped that by including examples of complaints
that were either "upheld" or "not upheld"
the Committee will gain an insight into the borderline between
what is considered acceptable under the Codes and what is not.
Please note that the examples included are not necessarily representative
of the companies' advertising as a whole. The full complement
of ASA adjudications, going back to 1996, is available on the
ASA web site (www.asa.org.uk/adjudications/index.asp).
MG Rover Group Ltd case study
The case of a recent poster campaign by MG Rover Group Ltd
illustrates the approach taken by the ASA to speed in advertising.
This case study ably demonstrates the effect of an ASA adjudication
on a campaign found in breach of the Codes.
Copies of the original MG Rover Group Ltd posters (for the
MG ZT, ZS and ZR) are included in Appendix 2 for reference.
The ASA received a complaint about the posters, which objected
that the advertisements placed an undue emphasis on speed and
encouraged irresponsible driving.
In response, MG Rover Group Ltd claimed that the intended
message of the posters was that MG Saloons offered drivers the
chance to break from the pressure to conform by being new and
individual. They explained that the headline suggested that MG
owners were likely to buck the trend of low fat, caffeine free,
diet products. The advertisers said that they had blurred the
background to make the car seem to be driving out of the advertisements
and argued that, because the car was not blurred and the background
contained no real-life imagery, the poster did not focus on speed.
The Authority considered that readers would not necessarily
infer that the headline ("Full Fat, High Caffeine, Maximum
Strength MG") referred to MG drivers' choice to be different.
The Authority noted that, although it was reversed and abstract,
the background created the feeling of extreme speed and that impression
was compounded by the wheel spin in two of the three advertisements.
The Authority concluded that the predominant message of the
campaign was speed and advised the advertisers to consult the
Committee of Advertising Practice Copy Advice team before advertising
again. The company have since amended their posters in accordance
with the adjudication. Alterations to the wording and background
visuals have done much to reduce the emphasis on speed in the
originals. Copies of the amended advertisements are included in
Advertisers have a duty to ensure that their advertisements
do not place undue emphasis on speed. By and large the Authority
is satisfied that the industry honours this commitment. In those
cases where advertisements are found in breach of the Codes, the
ASA moves quickly to ensure that advertisements are withdrawn
or amended to avoid the promotion of irresponsible driving.
Modern Markets: Confident Consumers (1999), DTI. Back
Not printed. Back