Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Advertising Standards Authority (RTS 13)



  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[25], 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 (


  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 be masked.


Table 1


(up to 10
Total number of complaints to ASA
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)
17 (32)
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 speed.

  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 following:

  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 acceleration messages.

  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 (

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.[26] 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 Appendix 3.


  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.

January 2002

25   Modern Markets: Confident Consumers (1999), DTI. Back

26   Not printed. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 5 July 2002