Misleading or offensive advertising
When certain traders advertise goods or services, run sales promotions or carry out direct marketing, they must abide by codes of conduct.
If you are of the opinion that an advert or promotion is misleading, harmful, offensive or dishonest, you can report the trader to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
What is the Advertising Standards Authority?
The ASA is the independent regulator of advertising across all forms of media in the UK and is the organisation responsible for ensuring that traders follow the codes of conduct.
The work of the ASA consists of pursuing complaints and monitoring the media to take action against misleading, harmful, offensive or dishonest advertisements.
It applies two Advertising Codes issued by the Committees of Advertising Practice:
- The UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (CAP Code)
- The UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (BCAP Code).
The Codes demand that adverts must be legal, decent, honest and truthful. They also state the information that must be included in an advert.
What types of advertising do the Codes of Conduct cover?
The Codes cover advertising in:
- the press
- radio, television and cinema commercials
- emails and text messages
- direct mail
- mobile apps
- website content.
Online Behavioural Advertising
The ASA also regulates Online Behavioural Advertising (OBA).
OBA involves gathering information from your web browser in order to present online advertisements tailored to your preferences.
The ASA oversees rules requiring businesses to clarify when they are collating and using information for the purposes of OBA and necessitates that they provide a tool enabling you to opt-out of receiving it.
The CAP Code governs distance-selling.
If you have a complaint about goods or services bought over the internet, by phone or via mail order, the ASA may be able to put pressure on the trader to resolve your complaint.
For instance, if goods you ordered have not been delivered by their due date, the ASA may be able to follow-up with the trader on your behalf.
How do you complain to the ASA and what does the procedure involve?
You can register your complaint with the ASA using its online complaint form or you can call them on (020) 7492 2222.
The ASA has the capacity to resolve your complaint quickly if is relatively straightforward. For example, they can have an advert changed if it is a minor error or chase an undelivered mail order purchase on your behalf.
If the matter is more complicated, the ASA may need to conduct a formal investigation. If you intend to complain about multiple issues, you should limit your complaint to what you consider to be the three most pressing issues.
In the event of a formal investigation taking place, the ASA Council will decide on the matter. The ASA will make contact with you, the advertiser and the broadcaster (if appropriate) with a view to outlining the investigation process.
The ASA will invite the advertiser and broadcaster to provide evidence for any claims they make and, if necessary, provide a justification for the propriety of the advert.
It will take all the information received into account and present the case to the ASA Council, which will decide whether the Codes have been breached.
Adverts that breach the Codes must either be amended or withdrawn altogether. If not, the ASA will take the necessary enforcement action to ensure that its ruling is followed.
You can request a review of an ASA Council ruling via an independent review procedure. This avenue is also available to advertisers.