Keeping ads responsible

At the ASA we strive tirelessly to keep ads, across all sectors and in all media, legal, decent, honest and truthful. But inevitably, at times some sectors come under more scrutiny than others. Here are just five ‘hot topics’ and examples of intervention the ASA system has made to keep them responsible.

Climate change

Though the ASA has regulated environmental claims for many years, we issued a formal statement in September 2021 describing the launch of a dedicated project to shine a brighter regulatory spotlight on ads that touch on the environment. In addition to continuing to investigate ads, we committed to delivering three major outputs:

  1. Advertising Guidance to help the industry ensure that their ads don’t mislead consumers or contain socially irresponsible messages about environmental issues;
  2. A series of reviews into the issues identified as priority areas by the Climate Change Committee for carbon reduction and consumer behaviour change. These involve us using a range of techniques including technology-assisted monitoring to inspect prevalent claims being made in ads for heating/energy and transport in the first reviews, and then move onto waste (looking at claims such as “biodegradable”) and meat and dairy and plant-based substitutes at a later date; 
  3. Commission research into consumer understanding of ‘carbon neutral’ and ‘net zero’ claims, as well as claims about ‘hybrid’ products in the electric vehicle market.

You can find out much more about our work in this area from the rules and recent rulings, to guidance for industry on our dedicated climate change page  


In October 2005, CAP brought in new, stricter rules about the marketing of alcoholic drinks. The changes were a result of widespread concern about drinking behaviour such as excessive or binge drinking and anti-social behaviour, especially amongst young people.

Marketers of alcoholic drinks were always expected to portray their alcoholic product responsibly - however, the changes tightened the ASA's position. The rules also apply to any ad that shows an alcoholic product, even if the marketer is not an alcoholic drink manufacturer/supplier. Among other areas of diktat, they include wording to ensure that ads do not:

  • feature models who are or look under 25 years old, reflect the culture of people under 18, include celebrities or influencers likely to appeal particularly to under 18s or target under-18s in any other way including context and content.
  • show alcohol being handled, served or drunk irresponsibly
  • link alcohol to seduction or sexual success, or suggest alcohol is the reason for the success of a personal relationship or social event
  • portray drinking alcohol as a challenge or linked with tough or daring behaviour or show drinking in an unsafe location.
  • suggest that drinking can overcome problems

As well as reacting to complaints we receive, we also proactively use monitoring techniques to ensure the rules are being followed. We recently published findings from a landmark project, in which we collaborated with five major platforms popular with children, to identify trends in the targeting of ads by alcohol brands in logged-in social media.

This was the latest of several reports which seek to minimise children’s exposure to age- restricted ads and forms part of the ASA’s ongoing commitment to proactively protect children by having More Impact Online. In this case, we focused on children falsely registered as, or incorrectly inferred to be, 18 or older on social media.

Find out more about what we learnt.


The advertising of gambling products raises particular issues of consumer protection because of the potential for the products to be used in ways that are unwise or risky, leading some people to experience gambling-related harms.

Gambling advertisers must take all reasonable steps to prevent marketing communications from posing a risk to vulnerable groups. They must also ensure that advertising meets general standards of responsibility to protect wider audiences. 

There are a strict set of rules for gambling ads set out in the UK Advertising Codes which aim to protect under-18s and other vulnerable groups.

And following a lengthy consultation, these rules are due to be tightened up further in October 2022 when the appeal test changes from ‘particular’ appeal to children, to saying they mustn’t have ‘strong appeal’.

We’ve always taken seriously our responsibility to protect young people and the new ‘strong appeal’ rules go further; they’re a step-change that strengthen the protections we afford.

No more topflight footballers or other high-profile sportspeople promoting the latest odds. No more social media influencers, TV stars or other celebrities popular with children inviting us to bet on red. And, no more gambling ads featuring video game images or gameplay familiar to many children’s lives.

Importantly, our rules extend across all media, including online and the social media platforms popular with children.  As gambling itself has increasingly become an online activity and its advertising has proliferated, it’s crucial that we set the rules and deliver the enforcement to keep children and other vulnerable groups safe online.

As an evidence-based regulator we use the best intelligence to inform the media restrictions we place on gambling ads and the content they feature. With a recent ASA report showing children’s exposure to TV gambling ads is now averaging 2.2 ads per week (the lowest level in twelve years) and the new ‘strong appeal’ rule to strengthen the restrictions already in place, we’re playing our part in helping to protect children and other vulnerable people from being harmed by gambling advertising.


Over the past decade, there has been an ever-growing number of social media influencers. Some were already famous through celebrity gained in other media but increasingly, influencers are everyday people who have gained a following because of what they say or do on social media. Marketers have been understandably keen to tap into this new channel to help advertise their products and services to large numbers of people, or a more niche audience they may otherwise struggle to reach directly. 

Importantly, the CAP Code applies to influencer marketing every bit as much as it does to more conventional forms of marketing, and we have worked tirelessly in recent years to make this known, and to support influencers in getting their ads right. That means:

  • Marketers and influencers need to ensure that individual posts are obviously identifiable as advertising, explained in detail in this guide produced in collaboration with the CMA.
  • Age-restricted products must not be advertised directly to under-18s (and lotteries shouldn’t be advertised to under-16s). Marketers of these types of products must take into account the age/demographics of an influencer’s followers when deciding who to work with. This guidance on ‘Children and age-restricted products online’ outlines some of the key principles here in more detail.

As well as providing a wealth of dedicated guidance to influencers and brands, from a Love Island leavers pack, to partnering with creators on TikTok and so much more, we’ve also stepped up monitoring work and sanctions. 

Following our Influencer Monitoring Report which examined levels of ad disclosure on Instagram we created a dedicated page on our website, highlighting individual influencers who, despite being put on notice that they would face further sanctions if they did not follow the rules, repeatedly failed to disclose when their posts were ads.

Named influencers will be on the webpage for three months and subject to a period of enhanced monitoring spot checks. Other influencers who similarly break our rules repeatedly will be added over time.

If named influencers continue to break our rules around non-disclosure, we have further sanctions we can implement, including taking out ads against them, working with social media platforms to have their content removed or referring them to statutory bodies for possible fines.

We will also be looking to take action against brands that repeatedly fail to disclose ads or do not provide assurances that they will properly label ads in future.

Foods high in fats, salt or sugar

Advertising food to children is an area of significant public concern and debate. The rules are restrictive in order to ensure that food is advertised responsibly, specifically for foods classed as HFSS. 

HFSS refers to food and drink products that are high in (saturated) fat, salt or sugar according to the Department of Health’s Nutrient Profiling Model (NPM). Foods that score four or more, and drinks one or more, are classed as HFSS

New rules relating to HFSS product advertising came into effect on 1 July 2017, and as a result, ads for these products are subject to strict media placement restrictions

In simple terms, this means that they are not permitted to appear in media;

•    specifically for under-16s (for example, a children’s magazine or on a website aimed at children); or

•    where under-16s make up a significant proportion (more than 25%) of the audience (for example, advertorial content with an influencer that might have broad appeal but also a significant child audience).

Additionally, HFSS ads directed at under-12s through their content are not permitted to include promotions or celebrities and licensed characters popular with children.

Click to see the full infographic


The Health and Care Act 2022 more recently proposed (but delayed) by government contains provisions to ban adverts for less healthy food and drink before the watershed on TV and on-demand services, as well as a prohibition of these ads online.

The foods and drinks covered by the ban fall within the category of HFSS products, but the Government intends the ban to cover only those of most concern to childhood obesity. The Government’s proposals would also see brand advertising – as opposed to advertising for specific products – and SME advertising exempted from the ban. CAP has engaged in dialogue with Government officials and Ofcom to understand the implications of the Act. We have also offered guidance on how it might intersect with our approach to food and drink advertising in the Codes and we’ll consider how those rules might need to be updated to reflect the new provisions when they come.


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