ASA ‘not frightened’ of tightening ad rules

The Advertising Standards Authority needs to demonstrate to the industry’s detractors that it is “part of the solution” to solving societal problems by being bold in tightening rules where necessary, according to the watchdog’s chief executive.


Speaking to Marketing Week as the ASA prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary, chief executive Guy Parker, says that it needs to better at demonstrating it is making a “positive contribution to society”.

He adds: “Where we don’t feel that we are , we need to take a long look at ourselves and ask are we doing enough?. If there is a persuasive case to tighten up in some places, we must not be frightened about this.”

The Advertising Standards Authority has been accused it of not doing enough to prevent irresponsible marketing of alcohol and food to children by public health bodies. Parker says that this pressure is likely to lead to changes in ad rules if an evidenced based case can be made.

“The noise is loud around the issues because as a society we have problems with alcohol consumption and obesity……You are constantly trying to battle with societal issues that are whacking great super tankers because they take a long time to turnaround. There are many reasons for this and advertising is just one of them is only one of them.

Last year, the watchdog saw its remit extended to include online marketing communications. The move led to a 71% increase in the number of complaints received in 2011, according to the watchdog’s annual report, the majority about misleading claims on company’s websites.

Parker warns companies that it will still take action even if changes are made quickly. “It’s not enough to say we will just change it. The cat’s out of the bag. It can go viral and suddenly you have a massive reputation problem on your hands that companies should be fearful of”.

It is expected the watchdog’s remit will be extended further to include oversight of online behavioural advertising, the practice of taking data from consumers’ computers to help develop targeted online advertising, before the end of 2012. Parker predicts the change, which is subject to The European Advertising Standards Alliance’s best practice guidelines being transposed into Committee of Advertising Practice codes, will not lead to the same uplift in complaints that followed last year’s online remit extension.

“We anticipate issues such as ‘I opted out but still receive ads’. This is because they have opted out of targeted ads but not others. We will be a bit of helpdesk, a little hand holding might be required”.

Timeline – 50 Years of the ASA

Advertising Standards Authority created.

Summaries of rulings published for the first time but only for “persistent offenders”.

Promotional marketing comes under ASA remit.

Advertising Standards Board of Finance established to administer a 0.1% levy on display ads to fund ASA.

Adjudications published for first time

Public complaints top 10,000 mark.

Direct marketing comes under ASA remit

Ad codes applied to advertising and sales promotions online for the first time.

ASA takes over responsibility for broadcast advertising from Ofcom.

Alcohol ad rules strengthened.

New rules regulation gambling and the advertising of foods and soft drinks to children introduced.

Online marketing communications comes under ASA remit

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