Memorandum submitted by Advertising Standards
1.1 The Advertising Standards Authority
(ASA) is grateful for the opportunity to provide evidence to the
Culture, Media and Sport Committee inquiry into Harmful Content
on the Internet and in Video Games. The ASA is happy for this
evidence to be published.
1.2 If the Culture, Media and Sport Committee
decides to focus on advertising regulation in particular during
the course of its inquiry, the ASA would be keen to provide oral
evidence and answer Committee members' questions directly.
1.3 The ASA also responded to the Tanya
Byron Review of Children and New Technology. This response
can be found at:
1.4 The ASA is the UK self-regulatory body
for ensuring that all advertisements, wherever they appear, are
legal, decent, honest and truthful.
1.5 The protection of consumers, children
and the vulnerable is at the heart of the ASA's work. The rules
aim to protect young and vulnerable members of society from harmful
and offensive advertising and to ensure that their credulity,
loyalty, vulnerability or lack of experience is not exploited.
1.6 This response provides:
A summary of the UK advertising
Details of the ASA's work in
protecting children and the vulnerable and regulating advertising
for video games and on the internet.
2.1 The self-regulatory system is based
on a concordat between advertisers, agencies and the media that
each will act in support of the highest standards in advertising.
Compliance with the Codes and ASA adjudications is binding on
all advertisers. It is not a voluntary system.
2.2 The system is both self-regulatory (for
non-broadcast advertising) and co-regulatory (for TV and radio
advertising). The Codes do sit within the legal framework, which
means that, where appropriate, they reflect the standards required
in law, eg misleading advertising.
2.3 The ASA is responsible for administering
five Advertising Codes and deals with more than 20,000 complaints
2.4 Final adjudications on complaints are
decided by the ASA Council and are published on the ASA website.
The Council's membership incorporates two-thirds members of the
public, one-third advertising experts and is chaired by former
Culture Secretary, Lord (Chris Smith) of Finsbury.
2.5 In the event that the ASA upholds a
complaint against an advertisement, the advertiser or broadcaster
is required to amend, withdraw or schedule the advertisement appropriately.
2.6 ASA adjudications are enforced through
the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast
Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP). Advertisers that breach
the Code face financial loss from having an ad campaign pulled
and loss of reputation through the publication of upheld adjudications.
2.7 For those advertisers who refuse to
comply with an adjudication, industry and other pressures can
be brought to bear; for example: poster pre-vetting can be imposed
and direct marketing companies can have benefits such as Royal
Mail bulk mailing discounts removed. In very serious and extreme
cases of non-compliance advertisers can be referred to the OFT
and broadcasters can be referred to Ofcom.
3. ABOUT CAP/BCAP
3.1 The ASA is responsible for administering
all five Advertising Codes and deals with more than 20,000 complaints
3.2 CAP and BCAP are the industry committees
responsible for drafting the Advertising Codes.
3.3 The Committee members represent the
three main parts of the advertising industry, namely the advertising
agencies, media owners (eg poster site owners, newspapers, broadcasters)
and the advertisers themselves.
3.4 CAP writes and updates:
the British Code of Advertising,
Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing ("the CAP Code"),
which governs non-broadcast advertising (eg print, poster, cinema,
3.5 BCAP writes and updates:
the BCAP TV Advertising Standards
the BCAP Radio Advertising Standards
the BCAP Code on Text Services,
the Rules on the Scheduling
of Television Advertisements.
3.6 Although the Codes do reflect the standards
required by law, the aspects of the Code covering harm, offence,
taste and decency and social responsibility are entirely self-regulatory.
The ASA therefore protects consumers from issues not covered by
the legal system.
3.7 The Advertising Codes can be accessed
3.8 The advertising industry through CAP
and BCAP enforce the adjudications of the ASA.
4.1 The ASA deals with advertisements in
all media. Those platforms that are generally referred to as "new
technology", fall under the scope of the non-broadcast CAP
4.2 Section 1.1d of the CAP Code states
that, in addition to conventional media, the Code applies to advertisements
in non-broadcast electronic media, including online advertisements
in paid-for space.
4.3 This means that the CAP Code covers
online advertising, such as: banner ads and pop-ups; advertising
content in commercial e-mails; commercial text messages; viral
marketing e-mails; paid-for entries in search engine results;
ads on electronic kiosks and billboards and ads in electronic
4.4 The ASA takes a "technology neutral
and high standards for all approach" to advertising regulation.
The ASA believes that all ads should be subject to the same high
standards, regardless of the media platform through which they
are delivered. However, this should not prevent the regulator
from taking sensible decisions regarding the targeting of advertisements
(eg an "adult" advertisement may be appropriately placed
around adult content online, but may be deemed inappropriate on
family or child friendly websites.)
5.1 The CAP Code does not cover companies'
own websites. Advertisements are generally classed as marketing
communications that appear in paid-for space. Companies' own websites
are not paid for space, which means that the content of these
sites is currently classed as editorial, not advertising, material.
5.2 Complaints received about internet advertising
rose in 2006 by 32.7% from 2005,
making the internet the second most complained about non-broadcast
media (behind national press).
In contrast, 2001 saw the internet ranked as the eighth most complained
about media of all non-broadcast media.
5.3 Even so, of the 2,066 complaints received
in 2006, approximately 90% were out of remit because they related
to website content and not advertisements in paid-for space.
5.4 Chris Smith, in his speech to the Incorporated
Society of British Advertisers in July 2007, highlighted the rise
in complaints and the need to obtain consumer trust in the online
space. He called on the industry to consider the various options
such as trusted spaces, kite marks, voluntary codes and new advertising
5.5 The industry is responding to this call.
The Advertising Association has established the Digital Media
Group, a task force formed to future-proof self-regulation of
digital media and, in particular, online.
5.6 There are lots of issues that need to
be resolved when undertaking to regulate aspects of the internet.
For example, if it were decided that the ASA system should be
extended to include some aspects of web material, then consideration
would need to be made in relation to how compliance with the rules
would be gained, how can we distinguish which material should
be subject to regulation? ie what types of sites and what types
of content on those sites.
5.7 There are some jurisdiction issues with
regulating content and advertisements on the internet. The ASA
applies the "country of origin" principle to online
advertising. If it is possible to determine that an advertisement
originated in the UK or the company that hosts the advertisement
is based in the UK, the ASA will seek to resolve a complaint.
If the advertisement originated outside the UK the ASA may be
able to refer the complaint on to an equivalent regulatory body
in the relevant country.
6.1 The ASA takes its responsibility to
protect children from harmful and offensive advertising seriously.
When the ASA considers a complaint, it must take into account
the likely audience or intended audience of the advertisement;
that specifically includes children.
6.2 On top of the general rules that are
aimed at protecting all consumers, the Advertising Codes contain
specific rules that provide additional protection for children.
6.3 For example, the Codes prevent "pressure
to purchase" tactics from being used in ads aimed at children.
Other rules state that advertisers should not take advantage of
the vulnerability or credulity of children.
6.4 In addition there are specific rules
to ensure socially responsible advertising of age restricted products,
such as gambling and alcohol. The rules for these products prevent
companies from aiming their ads at under 18s and from using particular
techniques with particular appeal to under 18s.
6.5 The Codes also contain clauses preventing
ads from causing widespread or serious offence, or from encouraging
or condoning anti-social behaviour.
6.6 This is built upon in the children-specific
sections of the Codes, which contain rules that stipulate that
marketing communications addressed to, targeted at or featuring
children should not contain anything that is likely to result
in their physical mental or moral harm.
6.7 All of the Codes contain rules about
ads that are targeted at young people and children. In non-broadcast
advertising, the ASA will take into account where an advertisement
has appeared ie the type of media used and its likely audience.
For example, an ad appearing in a magazine or newspaper might
be viewed differently than when on a more public space such as
6.8 In the non-broadcast media (including
online ads), the ASA will make a judgment based on the likely
content of the media in question, as well as the content of the
advertisement. The ASA's judgment takes into account the appropriate
protection of consumers and children from harmful advertising,
but without placing unreasonable restrictions on advertising freedoms.
6.9 All of the Advertising Codes can be
viewed at www.cap.org.uk/codes and the relevant sections from
the Codes are listed in the Annex to this submission.
6.10 CAP and BCAP are currently undertaking
a full review of all of the Advertising Codes. The draft Codes
are currently expected to be released for public consultation
towards the end of 2008.
7. HARMFUL AND
7.1 The CAP Codes protect consumers and
children by stipulating that marketing communications should not
contain anything that condones or is likely to provoke violence
or anti-social behaviour. They must also not cause fear or distress
without good reason or use shocking claims or images merely to
7.2 The ASA has the power to remove an advertisement
pending investigation. The ASA has used this power twice since
November 2004 and on both occasions it has been to protect children
from harmful advertising.
7.3 In terms of violent or offensive advertising,
the judgments that the ASA has to make may sometimes be difficult,
as some depictions of violence may be acceptable, for example
for a charity or public safety campaign.
7.4 In 2007 there was a significant increase
in complaints about violent imagery being used in advertising.
In 2007 the ASA has received 1,879 complaints about 568 ads that
depicted or alluded to violence compared with 1,054 complaints
about 254 ads in 2006. In terms of video game advertising the
ASA received 156 complaints about 87 advertisements in 2007.
7.5 The ASA seeks to ensure that it is kept
fully updated with public concerns and attitudes towards issues
in advertising. It is important that the ASA has the ability to
develop and progress with new issues and concerns as they arise.
7.6 One of the ways in which the ASA monitors
the public's opinion and attitudes is through holding regular
seminars and workshops on issues which have attracted an increasing
number of complaints.
7.7 The ASA also undertakes research into
people's attitudes towards advertising and compliance with the
advertising standards codes within specific sectors and media.
8.1 The ASA is UK self-regulatory system
for ensuring that all ads, wherever they appear are legal, decent,
honest and truthful.
8.2 The ASA protects consumers, children
and the vulnerable from potentially harmful advertising both offline
and online by enforcing the CAP and BCAP Codes.
8.3 Where necessary the ASA is able to act
immediately to protect consumers by removing ads pending investigation.
8.4 Advertising self-regulation is able
to adapt quickly and flexibly to changes in the advertising market,
including the use of new technologies.
8.5 The ASA is keen to ensure that advertising
self-regulation remains relevant and trusted by consumers and
the industry. We will read the results of the inquiry with great
8.6 The ASA is grateful for having been
provided with the opportunity to have input into this inquiry.
If there are any questions arising from this response please do
not hesitate to contact me.
36 Details of the members of CAP and BCAP can be found
at: http://www.bcap.org.uk/cap/links/CAP+Members/ Back
1,557 complaints about Internet in 2005 and 2,066 complaints were
received in 2006. Back
Internet is the third most complained about media behind television
(8,594 complaints) and national press (3,370 complaints). Back
The ASA is a member of the European Advertising Standards Alliance
(EASA www.easa-alliance.org). This is an alliance of all of the
advertising self regulatory bodies across the EU and beyond. EASA
co-ordinates cross-border complaints. Back
Tango (November 2004): http://www.asa.org.uk/NR/rdonlyres/C28460CC-0E05-48C3-822B-5DE2C57A6328/0/ASA_
Broadcast_Advertising_Adjudications_24Nov2004.pdf and thepool.com
(April 2006): http://www.asa.org.uk/asa/adjudications/non_broadcast/Adjudication+Details.htm?Adjudication_id=41194 Back