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Ensuring The Public Trusts Advertising

Stephen Woodford, Chief Executive

Stephen Woodford, Chief Executive | Advertising Association

5 min read Partner content

As the Advertising Standards Authority marks its 60th anniversary, the Advertising Association as the voice of the UK advertising industry gives credit to the role of the regulator in ensuring adverts across all media can be trusted by consumers.

From the rise of commercial television to the sonic boom of the internet age, the ASA’s principles of ‘legal, decent, honest, and truthful’ have remained constant. Our industry’s regulator continues to be viewed as a gold standard around the world.  

Let’s look at four key focuses of its 60th year:

Firstly, harnessing technology is crucial to regulating the online world, and regulators must keep pace through innovation to ensure their rules and enforcement remain fit-for-purpose.  

This year, the ASA launched the IPP – a world-first pilot with platforms including Google, Meta, TikTok, Twitter, Snap, Amazon Ads and Yahoo – to ensure consistency in how to raise awareness of ASA rules with advertisers and how to deal with non-compliant paid online ads. Programmes like this are a key part of the evolution of our self-regulatory system.

It is firmly in the public interest to bring more transparency to online regulation and through voluntary schemes such as the IPP, we can highlight examples of best practice or areas for improvement.

Continued industry support by advertisers, agencies, media, and platforms for the ASA system is essential. This ensures our regulator can undertake proactive self-improvement to consider whether, and where, further action could be taken to enhance the ASA’s ability to enforce its Code online.

Online cases now make up over 60% of all ASA cases, which reflects the evolution of advertising spend – with nearly three-quarters of adspend being spent online, according to the latest AA/WARC data.

ASA's latest awareness campaign

The ASA is already taking a pioneering approach to AI for its monitoring and compliance work. Using the power of technology is central to regulation and this is only going to become increasingly important.

Secondly, keeping pace with the big issues such as cost-of-living, climate change and protecting children from age-restricted advertising are an ongoing focus of the ASA’s regulation in the 21st century.

Our regulatory body sets the standard that every responsible advertiser must adhere to. Whether this is working with advertisers to ensure that age-restricted ads aren’t delivered to young people, or proactively checking the media that is served to children through monitoring sweeps.

It has set the standard for ground-breaking gender stereotyping rules in 2019 and is now looking at how to make ads more inclusive with research this year on racial and ethnic stereotyping.

The ASA has taken influencers to task by calling out those who break the rules, and is staying one step ahead as policy-makers look at issues such as body image.

Over the course of 2021, the ASA secured the amendment or withdrawal of 20,456 ads/ad campaigns across the advertising ecosystem. And this year alone, it’s on track to deliver nearly one million pieces of advice and training to the industry to help advertisers get their ads right.

It is important the public know about how ads are regulated.

Thirdly, we saw more brands making environmental claims in 2022 and trust data from advertising’s thinktank, Credos, tells us 43% of consumers are concerned about them. However, over a quarter of people believe adverts help them make sustainable purchases. Work through initiatives such as the Advertising Association’s climate action plan, Ad Net Zero, and its drive to use advertising’s power to encourage people to choose more sustainable products, services and behaviours, has long-term importance.

In parallel, this year the ASA has issued new research on how consumers understand the green claims in ads, as well as some stricter judgements on misleading environmental claims and ‘greenwashing’.

As we act with urgency to respond to the climate crisis, we must remember all advertising must remain legal, decent, honest, and truthful.

Finally, the industry must do everything it can to support our self-regulatory system, not least when it comes to the public’s perception of advertising. That’s why, as part of our plan to rebuild public trust in advertising, the Advertising Association is supporting the nationwide roll-out of the ASA’s awareness campaign.

It is important the public know about how ads are regulated. The biggest-ever campaign for the ASA is designed to build the public’s confidence and trust in our industry’s work.

Results show the public responded well to the test campaign for the ASA in Scotland in 2021. Two-thirds of people who saw or heard the ads reported that they are more likely to trust the advertising industry than those who didn’t.

So, in its 60th anniversary year, the Advertising Association and its members have helped the ASA hit the spotlights, featuring hero figures from famous brands – from Tesco to Marmite, Lloyds to Churchill – in TV, print, online, cinema and out-of-home media space all over the UK.

Advertising is a vital engine of the economy. It drives innovation, competition, and funds a pluralistic media.

The ASA plays a vital role in all of this. It provides a clear framework for all businesses in the industry, ensuring our work is legal, decent, honest, and truthful while avoiding disproportionate and unintended effects. 

As our regulatory body marks 60 years of service, it continues to set the standard for responsible advertising that resonates, not just in the UK, but around the world.

For any policymakers wanting to know more about public trust in advertising and continuing to rebuild trust in our industry, please get in touch.

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