Advertisers must make sure that their ads do not contain flickering images or types of patterns which may cause problems for people with photosensitive epilepsy (PSE). The reach of advertising combined with the potential effects of harmful ads on those with PSE can make problematic ads a cause for significant concern.

Advertisers should familiarise themselves with the relevant rules in the CAP (4.7) and BCAP (4.6) Codes as well as Annex 1 of Ofcom's Guidance Note for Licensees on Flashing Images and Regular Patterns in Television which sets out the technical standards which help minimise the risk of harm to people with PSE. The ASA routinely takes advice from Ofcom’s technical specialists where it considers a complaint provides grounds for concern. Advertisers should ensure that their ads have passed a Harding Flash and Pattern Analyser (FPA) Test or other suitably robust equivalent test.

In 2012 the ASA upheld complaints about a TV ad for Citroen cars which featured the word ‘YES’ flashing repeatedly on an orange background. An analysis by Ofcom found that parts of the ad breached three technical parameters. As part of its regulatory role Ofcom also investigates complaints about flashing images in broadcast television programming. In September 2015, it found The Voice UK: the Live Final on BBC1 to be In Breach of the Broadcasting Code.

Issues with flashing images are not just confined to television however. Although the ASA is yet to uphold complaints against an ad in non-broadcast media on these grounds, non-broadcast advertisers who intend to use flashing imagery should review the rules and Ofcom guidance and have their ads tested using Harding FPA or another suitably robust equivalent test if they have grounds for concern. CAP’s Copy Advice team can discuss compliance with the CAP Code, whereas Clearcast can advise broadcast marketers.

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