We're very proud of our colourful history that stretches out over half a century.

Discover more about key periods of our history and timeline below:

1961 onwards - Protecting consumers, testing claims

1974 onwards - Introduction of the levy

1988 onwards - Legal backstop

2004 onwards - Becoming the one-stop shop

2010 onwards - New digital advertising formats

Our timeline
 

Key periods of our history

1961 onwards - Protecting consumers, testing claims

When commercial TV started broadcasting in 1955, the advertisements were controlled by legislation. This was the first time that advertisements – and the claims they made - were subject to any form of formal regulation. When commercial radio was launched in 1973, they too were subject to statutory control.

In 1961, the Advertising Association, following discussions with other industry associations, agreed that it was important that advertisements were welcomed and trusted by consumers in non-broadcast media (print, newspapers, posters, direct mailings, billboards etc) too.

As a result, the industry (agencies, media and advertisers) came together to form the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP)  and produced the first edition of the British Code of Advertising Practice. The industry’s actions meant that an official report on Consumer Protection by the Molony Committee, published that same year, rejected the case for an American-style Federal Trade Commission to regulate advertising by statute:

"We are satisfied that the wider problem of advertising ought to be, and can be, tackled by effectively applied voluntary controls. We stress, however, that our conclusion depends on the satisfactory working of the new scheme, and in particular on the continued quality and independence of the Authority at its pinnacle.” [Molony Committee]

In 1962, CAP established the ASA as the independent advertising regulator under the newly created Code. The Authority was set up to supervise the working of the new self-regulatory system in the public interest.
 

1974 onwards - Introduction of the levy

In 1974, at an Advertising Association conference at which newly appointed Minister for Consumer Protection Shirley Williams also spoke, the OFT’s John Methven criticised the system for not tackling misleading advertising or being well-known enough.

In response, the industry set up the Advertising Standards Board of Finance (Asbof) in 1974 to provide sufficient and secure funding for the system through a levy of 0.1% on advertising space costs.

Because the ASA is not responsible for collecting the levy itself, its independence is assured. The levy also provides enough funding for the ASA to promote itself to the public.
 

1988 onwards - Legal backstop

In 1988, the introduction of the Control of Misleading Advertisements Regulations provided the ASA with legal backing from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). These regulations enabled the ASA, for the first time, to refer advertisers who made persistent misleading claims and refused to co-operate with the self-regulatory system to the OFT for legal action.

The ASA still has the ability to refer problem advertisers for unfair or misleading advertising, but today we would refer under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008. The 2008 regulations replaced the Control of Misleading Advertisements Regulations 1988. And, in 2013, responsibility for the legal backstop transferred from the Office of Fair Trading to Trading Standards.

Referral to Trading Standards is a last resort and rarely needed: the overwhelming majority of advertisers work within the system.
 

2004 onwards - Becoming the one-stop shop

In 2004, after more than forty years of successful self-regulation of non-broadcast ads, the ASA/CAP system assumed responsibility for TV and radio ads.

The newly-formed communications regulator, Ofcom, took the decision, in a move supported by Parliament, to contract-out responsibility for broadcast (TV and radio) advertising to the ASA system in a co-regulatory partnership. The co-regulatory agreement created for the first time in the UK a single regulator for advertising – a one-stop shop for advertising complaints.

To create the one-stop shop, broadcast equivalents of the non-broadcast institutions (ASA/ CAP/ Asbof) were established. A new industry committee, the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice, was created to write and maintain the Broadcast Advertising Code. The Broadcast Advertising Standards Board of Finance (Basbof) was established to collect the 0.1% levy on broadcast advertising space costs and an ASA (Broadcast) was launched to administer the Codes.

Although there are various constituent parts, the system runs as a single advertising regulator. This is particularly important for members of the public who want a complaints system that’s easy to navigate.

From under 100 complaints in its first year of operation, the ASA now receives over 30,000 complaints a year. This is mainly due to the fact that the one-stop shop ASA is well known; has a much broader remit and it is easier to complain.
 

2010 onwards - New digital advertising formats

Over the years, the advertising self-regulatory system has responded to changes in society and media. The system is continuing to develop based on the enduring principles that ads should not mislead, harm or offend. 
 

Video-on-demand

In December 2009, following the UK Government’s decision that new rules relating to video-on-demand (VOD) services should be delivered under a co-regulatory framework, the ASA entered into a co-regulatory partnership with Ofcom to regulate advertisements accompanying VOD services. VOD meant that consumers were able to watch TV-like programmes at a time of their own choosing, so it was necessary to ensure that these services were subject to similar standards to TV.

As with broadcast advertising, VOD service providers who continually show ads that break the Code can be referred to Ofcom, which has the power to fine them or even revoke their license.
 

Online advertising

In 1995 the ASA’s remit was extended to cover advertisements in ‘non-broadcast electronic media’, predominantly in ‘paid-for space’ online such as banner and display ads and paid-for (sponsored) search.

However, by 2007 the Internet had become the second most-complained about medium and the ASA was turning away nearly two-thirds of the complaints it received about online advertising, because they related to claims made on companies’ own websites, which were not subject to the rules.

In September 2010, CAP announced the extension of the ASA’s online remit to cover advertiser’s own marketing communications on their own websites and in other non-paid-for space under their control, such as social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Journalistic and editorial content and material related to causes and ideas - except those that are direct solicitations of donations for fund-raising - are excluded from the remit.
 

Regulation today - Advertising under control

50 years on and advertising in the UK overwhelmingly sticks to the rules. Our compliance surveys regularly reveal that more than 97% of ads are in line with the Advertising Codes.

The vast majority of TV and radio ads are pre-cleared before they go on air. There is also lots of free help and guidance available to non-broadcast advertisers in the form of the CAP Advice and training team who offer free, independent and expert advice on how to avoid breaking the rules.

And because the industry is committed to making self-regulation effective, advertisements that break the Codes can be withdrawn swiftly without needing to resort to legal action. If needed, however, the ASA can impose sanctions to bring problem advertisers into line. For example, advertisers who continue to flout the rules can be denied access to advertising media space.

Today’s self-regulatory system has come a long way since 1962, winning the confidence of consumers, industry and government along the way. 
 

​​​​Our timeline

  • Self-regulatory system for non-broadcast advertising setup

    1961

    • The Council of the Advertising Association decides to establish a self-regulatory system for non-broadcast advertising.
    • The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) is established
    • The first edition of the CAP Code is published
    • The ASA incorporated under the Companies Act 1948 (22 August)

  • The ASA holds its inaugural meeting

    24 September 1962

  • Spot checks begin for certain industry ads

    1964

    Spot checks begin on ads for slimming diets, hair treatments, knitting and sewing machines, vitamins, cigarettes, beauty treatments, gin, cocktails, vodka and health food drinks.

  • Travel industry guidance published

    1965

    Guidance is given to the travel industry to make sure that holidaymakers do not suffer inconvenience, disappointment or financial loss as a result of advertisements.

  • TV cigarette ads banned

    1965

    Cigarette advertising is banned on television (cigars and loose tobacco can continue to be advertised until the early 1990s).

  • Pregnancy testing kit ad restrictions lifted

    1966

    Restrictions on advertising pregnancy testing kits are lifted and the ASA advises publishers they can use their discretion subject to safety conditions.

  • Trade Descriptions Act gains Royal Assent

    1968

    Government expresses its hope that the self-regulatory system would continue to operate alongside the statutory system.

  • Work conducted to distinguish ads from editorial

    1970

    A CAP working group looks at how to distinguish ads from editorial. New ruling and guidance issued: ads must be clearly and immediately recognisable as such

  • ITA becomes the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA)

    1972

  • ASA rulings published for first time

    1973

    ASA publishes summaries of its rulings for the first time – but only persistent offenders are named.

  • Commercial radio launches in the UK

    1 October 1973

  • British Code of Sales Promotion published

    1974

  • ASA criticised for not being well-known

    Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection, Shirley Williams, criticises the ASA for not being sufficiently well-known by the public.

  • The Advertising Standards Board of Finance (ASBOF) is set up

    1975

  • First ASA ad campaign

    1975

    The ASA launches its first advertising campaign to inform the public, industry and government of its existence and role and to invite them to refer specific complaints.

  • New alcohol and cigarette Codes

    1975

    New Codes for alcoholic drink and cigarette advertising introduced, along with pre-vetting for the latter.

  • Call for improved response times and compliance action

    1978

    Director of Fair Trading, Gordon Borrie, calls for speedier response times and more effective compliance action in his report on the ASA.

  • Rulings into competitive complaints published

    1981

  • Broadcasting Complaints Commission (BCC) established

    1981

  • British Audience Research Bureau (BARB) created

    1981

  • Women’s attitudes research published

    1982

    Research into women’s attitudes to ads finds that women most dislike images of sexual suggestiveness and stereotypes in advertising.

  • Misleading Advertisements Directive adopted

    Although Misleading Advertisements Directive doesn’t become law until 1988. Self-regulation is the ‘established means’ of implementing the directive.

  • Hungerford shooting leads to amendments of the Codes

    1987

    The Hungerford shooting leads to amendments of the Codes to include new rules on violence and anti-social behaviour.

  • Legal backstop added

    1988

    The Control of Misleading Advertisement Regulations add a legal backstop to the self-regulatory sanctions.

  • First referral to Office of Fair Trading

    1989

    The first referral to the Office of Fair Trading results in an injunction to prevent misleading slimming claims for Speedslim.

  • ASA agrees to oversee list and database management section of Codes

    1990

  • ASA co-founds EASA

    1991

    The ASA co-founds the European Advertising Standards Alliance with 11 other countries.

  • Complaints top 10,000 for the first time

    1991

  • Internet ads come under the Codes

    1995

  • First advertiser to be subject to poster pre-vetting

    1998

    The Commission for Racial Equality becomes the first advertiser to be subject to poster pre-vetting.

  • Party political advertising removed from 10th edition of Codes

    1999

  • Most complained about ad for five years

    2000

    Yves St. Laurent’s Opium ad featuring model Sophie Dahl attracts more complaints than any other ad for five years.

  • Rulings begin to be published weekly online

    2001

  • Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002 comes into force

    2003

  • New Code comes into force and is renamed

    2003

    The 11th edition of the Code comes into force, renamed The British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing or the CAP Code.

  • ASA becomes one-stop shop

    2004

    The new broadcast regulator Ofcom contracts-out the regulation of broadcast advertising regulation to the advertising self-regulatory system. The ASA becomes the one-stop shop for advertising complaints.

  • Most complained about TV ad

    2005

    Kentucky Fried Chicken’s TV ad that showed people singing with their mouths full becomes the most complained about broadcast ad ever. The ASA did not uphold the 1,671 complaints that the ad could encourage bad manners amongst children.

  • Alcohol rules tightened in response to concern about irresponsible drinking

    2005

  • New food and drink rules introduced to protect children

    2007

  • Gambling Act 2005 comes into force along with new gambling rules

    2007

  • First ever concurrent review of the Advertising Codes

    2007

  • Internet becomes second most complained about medium

    2007

  • Control of Misleading Advertisements Regulations repealed and replaced

    2008

    The Control of Misleading Advertisements Regulations (and many other pieces of consumer protection legislation such as the Trades Descriptions Act 1968) are repealed and replaced with the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations and the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations. The ASA’s role as the ‘established means’ for regulating UK ads remains unchanged.

  • Co-regulatory partnership with Ofcom to regulate video on demand

    2009

  • New CAP and BCAP Codes

    2010

    The new CAP Code comes into effect. The first edition of the BCAP Code comes into force, replacing the four separate BCAP Codes for broadcast advertising.
     

  • Online remit extended

    2011

    The ASA’s online remit is extended to include marketing communications on companies’ own websites and in other non-paid-for space under their own control.

  • ASA takes on responsibility for regulating Online Behavioural Advertising

    2013

  • Legal backstop transferred from Office of Fair Trading to Trading Standards

    2013

  • Most complained about non-broadcast ad

    2014

    Paddy Power’s “IT’S OSCAR TIME”, “MONEY BACK IF HE WALKS” and “WE WILL REFUND ALL LOSING BETS ON THE OSCAR PISTORIUS TRIAL IF HE IS FOUND NOT GUILTY”, becomes the most complained about non-broadcast ad ever. The ASA upheld the 5,525 complaints, for causing serious or widespread offence, and bringing advertising into disrepute.

  • Internet becomes most complained about medium

    2014

    The internet overtook television for the first time ever as the most complained about medium with 13,477 complaints about 10,202 ads, an increase of 35% from 2013.