In a world first, the ASA and some of the largest companies in the digital advertising supply chain are announcing a Pilot extending our role online.  

The Pilot, which will run for one year from June 2022, is the result of a collaboration between the ASA and members of IAB UK (a member of the Committee of Advertising Practice), including Adform, Amazon Ads, Google, Index Exchange, Meta, TikTok, Twitter and Yahoo*, with the potential for more to follow. It will explore putting on a more formal footing, and bringing consistency to, the ways in which these companies cooperate with the ASA to promote advertisers’ awareness of the rules online and to help the ASA to secure compliance in cases when an advertiser refuses to amend or withdraw an ad that breaks the rules.

*Snap Inc. and Magnite have since become Pilot participants.

Delivering More Impact Online

The ASA has been delivering effective regulation online since the beginning of the internet, independently enforcing rules to ensure ads don’t mislead, harm or cause serious or widespread offence to their audience.

Under the banner of its More Impact Online strategy, the ASA is making innovative use of technology and data science to identify and tackle non-compliant ads online, and partnering with platforms and statutory regulators to deliver comprehensive protection to consumers and responsible businesses alike.

Twin-track Regulation

The ASA operates twin-track regulation in every aspect of its remit.  

That means, it holds advertisers primarily accountable for the creative content, media placement and audience targeting of their ads. And, to complement this work, it partners with broadcast and non-broadcast media and other advertising intermediaries to help the ASA promote and enforce the advertising rules across all media.

In this way, and for over 60 years, the ASA acts collectively with the industry and other regulators to keep advertising legal, decent, honest and truthful.  

Enhancing transparency and widening accountability online

The ASA is committed to transparent and accountable regulation in all areas of its work.  

In the online space, the role that certain online advertising intermediary companies play in the ASA system to help deliver better outcomes for consumers is not well-known or understood. We think it’s in the public interest to bring more transparency to this work.  

The Pilot will therefore help the ASA and participating companies to explore whether and to what extent the ASA may independently, proportionately and formally bring more visibility and accountability in terms of how they participate in and help to uphold the UK’s world-leading system of advertising regulation.  

The Pilot

The Pilot centres around public-facing ‘Intermediary and Platform Principles’.  

The Principles standardise across a range of participating companies the ways in which leading digital players already work with the ASA to promote advertisers’ awareness of the rules online and help the ASA to secure compliance in exceptional cases when an advertiser refuses to amend or withdraw an ad that breaks the rules.  

Companies participating in the Pilot include: Adform, Amazon Ads, Google, Index Exchange, Meta, TikTok, Twitter and Yahoo*, with the potential for more to follow.

This Pilot will strengthen the ASA’s existing relationships with many of these companies and support new relationship-building with others in the online advertising supply chain.

Under the Pilot, participating companies voluntarily agree to provide information to the ASA to demonstrate how they operate in accordance with the Principles, with an understanding that different companies can meet the Principles in different ways.  

The ASA will use this information and other intelligence collected over the reporting period to publish a report at an interim stage of the Pilot and another after its culmination.  

The reports will provide an independent, aggregated account of how the participating companies have performed against the Principles, highlighting examples of best practice and identifying areas for improvement. The information gathered through the Pilot should also help the ASA, the industry and other stakeholders to collectively consider whether and where gaps exist in the ASA’s ability to enforce the CAP Code online that could be appropriately addressed by working with these and other online intermediary businesses. 

By exploring how to enhance transparency and widen formal accountability online, the Pilot serves as a practical and valuable means to gather evidence and help inform future policy thinking in this area.  This includes evaluating the criteria under which companies could, in the future, fall under the framework; the breadth and depth of the Principles that would apply in order to help deliver better outcomes; and, the funding arrangements necessary to underpin the ASA’s operation of any future framework.

*Snap Inc. and Magnite have since become Pilot participants.

Scope: programmatic paid-for advertising

The participating companies operate different business models, but have in common an intermediary role providing tools to advertisers and their agencies to help automate the matching of their ads to publications and other paid-for inventory online. These tools help to deliver ‘programmatic ads’ at pace and at scale to UK audiences, and they currently make up the overwhelming majority of ads in paid-for space online.

The Principles therefore relate to the ways in which participating companies help to promote advertisers’ awareness of the rules as they impact on programmatic paid-for advertising and how they help the ASA to secure compliance in exceptional cases when an advertiser refuses to amend or withdraw a paid-for programmatic ad that breaks the rules.

The Principles do not cover ads in non-paid-for space online e.g. a retailer’s post via its social media account, or any other form of advertising, which is not delivered programmatically e.g., influencer advertising. For the avoidance of doubt, whilst the Pilot will not cover these ads, the ASA continues to regulate them. The ASA also regulates ads on traders’ own websites and in other non-paid-for space online under the traders’ control; the categories of advertising which attract the most complaints to the ASA.  

Age-restricted ads online

The Principles include a requirement on the participating companies to make advertisers and their agencies aware of the targeting tools that can be used on their services to support advertisers’ compliance with rules on ads that attract an age-targeting restriction under the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (the CAP Code). For instance, the CAP Code includes age-targeting restrictions on ads for alcohol, gambling and food and soft drink high in fat, salt or sugar.

The Principles and work currently being undertaken by the Committee of Advertising Practice to strengthen guidance on online targeting underly the advertising industry’s collective commitment to appropriately limiting children’s exposure to age-restricted ads. This objective continues to be a major focus of the ASA’s work, including through development of its data science expertise and use of tech-assisted monitoring.

Scam ads online

The ASA is set up to regulate the overwhelming majority of ads that are published on behalf of legitimate advertisers. It is not a law enforcement body and it therefore does not have the appropriate legal powers to address criminals who use advertising to promote their scams, including through deceitful use of online intermediary services.

The ASA plays an active role in seeking to disrupt scam ads, but it does not investigate them because criminals, who have scant regard for the law, clearly have no incentive to comply with the UK advertising rules.  

For these reasons and in recognition of the plans and initiatives of government and legal enforcement bodies to address the scourge of scam ads, the Principles do not cover this area of criminal activity.  However, the ASA will continue to work closely with companies, the government and legal enforcement bodies in this aspect of its work, and will continue to operate its Scam Ad Alert system, publicly reporting on progress.

The law

The Pilot has been designed and structured so as not to operate in an unfair or anti-competitive manner and draws on core regulatory principles to meet the tests of proportionality, accountability, consistency, transparency and targeting.  

Companies participating in the Pilot must have primary regard to their compliance with the law, including in any unlikely circumstance where the law conflicts with their agreement to operate in accordance with the Principles.

The Pilot takes place in the context of legislative developments in the UK, Europe and elsewhere, which impact on a wide variety of online businesses. The most relevant is the UK government’s Online Advertising Programme, launched on 9 March 2022, which promises to take into account the extent to which the Pilot helps to improve accountability and transparency in online advertising.  The Pilot is a material and important contribution to wider debate around these objectives and offers a good foundation for how they might be achieved. 

The ASA and participating companies will pay close attention to these developments and the extent to which they impact on the proper running of the Pilot and any formal arrangements that might succeed it.

Stakeholder feedback

As part of its commitment to transparency and accountability, the ASA and the IAB (as the representative body for the participating companies) encourage feedback about any aspect of the Pilot with a pledge to respond, as appropriate, on the significant comments received. 

Feedback should be sent to [email protected].

Next steps

In the time before the Pilot commences, the ASA, IAB UK and participating companies will work on guidance to support compliance with the Principles and make respective arrangements to ensure adequate resource is allocated to the administration of the Pilot.

Questions and Answers

The Government’s Online Advertising Programme consultation makes reference to the ASA Online Platforms and Networks Standards (OPNS) proposal.  Is the OPNS proposal and Intermediary and Platform Principles the same thing?

Yes.  OPNS was the title given to the development phase of Intermediary and Platform Principles.

The ASA and the IAB (acting as the representative body for the companies participating in the Pilot) pledge to respond, as appropriate, to significant comments received. What form will the responses take?

Responses will be published on this page. Significant comments will be anonymised before publication.