The ASA has published its Annual Report for 2022, in which it looks back on sixty years of regulation. The report also includes details of some of the most-complained about ads during those sixty years.
The ASA has secured the amendment or withdrawal of 31,227 ads in the past year. As well as the usual statistics about numbers and types of complaints, the report sets out the key areas of activity from the past year. Against a background of some political turmoil, the ASA has worked on areas such as environmental claims and ‘greenwashing’, online ad-targeting, gambling, telecoms pricing, body image and alcohol alternatives.
So what are the key takeaways?
Crypto: The ASA identified Crypto as a ‘red alert’ issue. The main issues identified by the ASA were the absence of appropriate risk warnings, and socially irresponsible ads that took advantage of consumers’ inexperience or trivialising investment. The ASA issued an Enforcement Notice to 60 crypto firms, and since then it reports improved compliance across the board.
Environmental: Green claims were (and continue to be) very high on the ASA’s agenda, along with the CMA. We saw some high profile rulings, including a ruling involving an HSBC ad that focused on specific benefits while omitting key information, giving an overall misleading impression about the advertiser’s overall impact on the environment. The ASA published research into consumer understanding of broad claims such as ‘carbon neutral’ and ‘net zero’. The issue is that these claims can be interpreted in different ways, and consumers don’t seem to understand the role played by carbon offsetting, as opposed to carbon reduction. With the EU and US also focusing on these claims, it seems certain the ASA will continue to focus its enforcement on them, and we hope it will also publish further guidance.
Influencers: Influencers have been another hot topic for the ASA this year. Influencer cases increased by 11%, and made up just over 1/4 of all online cases this year and again there have been several high profile rulings. It has issued various pieces of new guidance this year, including a self-help tool. It has also worked with the FCA on guidance in the fintech space. It also says that in the coming year it will scale up its monitoring work, working closely with platforms, and will continue to collaborate with the CMA and Ofcom on areas of mutual concern.
Age restricted ads: the CAP and BCAP Codes include media and targeting restrictions that confine certain sector ads such as gambling and advertising to predominantly adult audiences and content restrictions that prevent them from appealing inappropriately to children. Evidence shows that children’s average level of exposure to alcohol and gambling ads is declining. The ASA hopes that CAP guidance will reduce children’s exposure further by directing advertisers and their agencies to take a more prescriptive, pre- and post-publication approach to the targeting of age-restricted ads online. It has also introduced a new rules which mans gambling ads from having “strong appeal” to under-18s. It points out that in a men’s World Cup year, the impact of this change was dramatic, as it prevented gambling advertising from featuring celebrity and sports stars popular with under-18s. The report does not mention the recent Gambling White Paper which has not suggested any significant legislative change regarding gambling advertising.
Platforms and online intermediaries: the ASA is continuing to regulate advertising online in conjunction with platforms and other intermediaries. It also works with the CMA, and trading standards who act as the ASA's legal backstops. It launched the Intermediary and Platform Principles (IPP) pilot, a collaboration with Amazon Ads, Google, Index Exchange, Meta, Yahoo and other companies in the digital ad supply chain, in part to address the lack of understanding among the public, opinion formers, advertisers and agencies about the role that these businesses play in supporting the ASA’s online regulation. The pilot revolves around six principles (supported by guidance) designed to encourage participants to increase advertisers’ awareness of the rules, including targeting age-restricted ads, and to help the ASA secure compliance in exceptional cases when an advertiser refuses to withdraw a non-compliant ad. The ASA published its interim IPP pilot report at the end of the year, and says that it was greatly encouraged by the engagement it saw. It is planning a full report later this year to help inform any update to the regulatory framework.
The report provides a good overview of the ASA's priorities and preferred ways of working, and is worth a read - see the link below.
Continued political turmoil stalled several government initiatives expected to come to fruition during 2022; we can see legislation and reviews coming with a rush in 2023