Blog: New Platforms, Same Protections

Ed Senior, Compliance Executive from CAP, takes a look at advertising on new and emerging platforms, and how the ASA and CAP are here to help, regardless of where an ad appears.

Advertising through the internet giants continues to account for a big part of the media landscape. In 2016 Google and Facebook together constituted 20% of the world's advertising budget across all media. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that Facebook announced in July that the network plans to allow ads on their Facebook Messenger app. This decision continues a pattern of platforms extending ads on their networks, with some social media companies introducing targeted ads based on user preferences derived from personal data.  

Of course, advertising on social media platforms isn’t a new phenomenon, with ads appearing on YouTube from as early as 2007. Four years after Twitter was founded in 2006, the company introduced ads. Instagram followed a similar path, allowing ads four years after its creation in 2014. Snapchat got in on the action a little quicker, waiting only three years. Many platforms have talked about the challenge of incorporating advertising without detracting from users’ overall experience, stating their intention to merge ads as seamlessly as possible into the site’s interface. Twitter introduced ‘promoted tweets’ to maintain continuity with the platform’s ethos of short bursts of information; Instagram provide sponsored images and ‘#ad’ to fit in with their concept of pictures speaking a thousand words.

What does this mean for regulation? The vast majority of the ads on social media platforms, just as in other media, are responsible, and the ASA is here to deal with the rest. Since the ASA’s remit was extended in 2011, consumers have benefited from exactly the same protections for online advertiser-owned ads (meaning companies’ websites and social media platforms) as for those in traditional media. Fast forward to 2017 and these online advertiser-owned ads account for nearly half of our regulation.

A quick look at our rulings show that in social media – just as elsewhere – when an advertiser breaks the rules, the ASA steps in. For example, we upheld complaints in 2012 about an ad on Twitter for making health claims without being able to back them up with proper evidence. Our Oreo biscuits ruling showed that advertising by vloggers on YouTube still needs to stick to the rules of the Code, in particular by ensuring that viewers can clearly identify when content is advertising.  Meanwhile, our ruling on Uber Sonic Club Ltd demonstrated that price claims made in sponsored ads on Instagram need to be accurate and backed up.  

To help advertisers understand their obligations, CAP has created guidance on how to market products and services responsibly on social media. This includes advice on what aspects of social media are captured by the ASA’s remit, how to ensure ads are suitably signposted to indicate to consumers that they are ads and even advice on how to conduct prize draws on these new platforms.

These are just a few examples of how the ASA system is ensuring consumers are protected across the new platforms for advertising. Ads play an important role in funding media, online just as offline. Responsible ads are good for people, the economy and society as a whole.

However, if you see an ad, especially on a new media platform, that you think might break the rules, then get in touch to make a complaint.

For more information on our compliance work, please see our proactive work.

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