The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is the UK’s independent advertising regulator. The ASA makes sure ads across UK media stick to the advertising rules (the Advertising Codes).
The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) is the sister organisation of the ASA and is responsible for writing the Advertising Codes. The ASA and CAP are committed to regulating in a way that is transparent, proportionate, targeted, evidence-based, consistent and accountable.
About the ASA
We’re passionate about what we do because responsible advertisements are good for people, society and advertisers. Our mission is to make every UK ad a responsible ad.
We respond to concerns and complaints from consumers and businesses and take action to ban ads which are misleading, harmful, offensive or irresponsible. As well as responding to complaints we monitor ads to check they’re following the rules. We also conduct research to test public opinion and identify where we need to take action to protect consumers.
- We've been administrating the non-broadcast Advertising Code for over 50 years and the broadcast Advertising Code for over ten. Our remit was further extended in 2011 to include claims made by companies on their own websites and in social media spaces under their control.
- In 2020, we resolved 36,342 complaints relating to 22,823 ads.
- As a result of that work, as well as our own proactive regulatory work, 36,491 ads were either changed or removed - an increase of 346% on the previous year.
- Online cases made up 61% of all cases and nearly half of all complaints across media – 17,379 complaints about 14,512 cases in 2020.
- We’re independent of Government and our regulation comes at no cost to the taxpayer.
- Our members represent the advertising industry, covering advertisers, media owners and agencies.
- We also offer authoritative advice and guidance on how to create campaigns that comply with the rules.
How the system works
Ads in the UK are regulated through a system of ‘self-regulation’ and ‘co-regulation’. In summary, self-regulation means that the work we do is funded by the advertising industry.
- Self-regulation means that the ad industry also writes the rules (through CAP) that advertisers have to stick to. Non-broadcast advertising, including newspapers, posters, websites, social media, cinema, emails, leaflets, billboard, is covered by self-regulation. Read more
- Co-regulation is an arrangement the ASA have with the communications regulator, Ofcom. It has given us responsibility (a contract) on a day-to-day basis to regulate TV and radio advertising. In 2014, Ofcom announced the renewal of its co-regulatory relationship with the ASA for another ten years. Read more
The ASA respond to complaints but we also check ads across media to make sure they’re sticking to the rules. We monitor ads in sectors where there are potential consumer protection issues or where there are societal concerns about specific products, for instance age-restricted products like alcohol, gambling or electronic cigarettes.
Together with CAP, the ASA works to support the industry to help them get their ads right before they are published. For example by providing guidance, pre-publication advice and training for the industry. Last year, we provided ¼ million pieces of advice and training for the industry, most of which was free of charge.
What happens before an ad is published?
The Advertising Codes require that advertisers hold evidence to prove the claims that they make before they are published or aired. We expect all advertisers to follow the rules when creating their ad campaigns.
Pre-clearance for TV and radio advertising
The vast majority of TV and radio ads are pre-cleared before they are broadcast.
Under their licences broadcasters must take reasonable steps to ensure that the ads they broadcast stick to the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising.
To help them do this, the broadcasters have established and funded two pre-clearance centres:
- Clearcast for television commercials.
- Radiocentre for radio ads.
There are many millions of non-broadcast ads published every year in the UK, so it would be impossible to check every one of them before they appear. For example there are more than 30 million press advertisements and 100 million pieces of direct marketing every year.
However, to help advertisers get their ads right, CAP provides a range of advice, guidance and training, including free pre-publication Copy Advice service.
We also encourage advertisers and anyone with an interest in the rules or who is involved in producing ads to sign up for Insight and Update, CAP’s advice newsletters here which provide current and timely advice on the latest positions on hundreds of different advertising issues.
Regulation after an advertisement has appeared
Even though many steps are taken to ensure ads are in line with the Codes before they are aired or published, consumers have the right to complain about ads they have seen, which they believe to be misleading, harmful or offensive.
The ASA can act on just one complaint. We don’t play a numbers game: our concern is whether the ad rules have been broken.
Find out more about how we handle complaints
The Advertising Codes and the ASA’s rulings have universal coverage across the advertising industry. Advertisers cannot opt out of them.
If we have judged an ad has broken the advertising rules, then it must be withdrawn or amended. The vast majority of advertisers stick to the ASA’s rulings and they act quickly to amend or withdraw an ad that breaks the Codes.
We have a range of sanctions to act against the small number of advertisers who are either unwilling or unable to work within the rules and to ensure they are brought into line. In 2013 Trading Standards took over from the Office of Fair Trading as the ASA’s ‘legal backstop’ on the non-broadcast side. On the broadcast side, Ofcom acts as our ‘legal backstop’.