ASA and CAP Annual Report 2019: More Impact Online & the Shift to Proactive Enforcement
The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) and the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) have recently published their 2019 Annual Report. Key takeaways are:
- Digital advertising generated by far the greatest number of complaints
The ASA resolved almost 34,717 complaints in the last year relating to 24,886 ads, of which 70% were found to be potentially misleading. In terms of media, complaints about online advertising topped the list with 16,767 complaints received; compared to 9,971 for the next biggest media category, TV ads.
- Influencer marketing is still a problem
Complaints about influencer posts accounted for more than a quarter of all online complaints. The ASA has since published a cheat sheet for Love Island contestants and new video guidance with the aim of clarifying the regulatory framework for social media influencers.
- Proactive monitoring & data science: avatars & social listening tools
To tackle the online forum, the ASA’s strategy has shifted towards proactive technology-assisted intelligence gathering, complaints handling, monitoring and enforcement. This includes:
- the use of avatars (online profiles of fake internet users of different ages) for monitoring the accessibility of age-restricted ads to the underage. Ads for HFSS (high fat, salt or sugar foods and drinks) served in children’s online media, including YouTube videos aimed at children, were caught by the avatars;
- using the social media monitoring software, Brandwatch, to identify unlabelled influencer ads by picking up spikes in likes/mentions on social media platforms.
- Collective regulation & co-regulatory enforcement
The ASA continued to shift towards a more collective regulatory regime, working with other organisations, including its overseas partners.
- Big tech and social media platforms
There was also continued engagement with big tech and social media platforms. The ASA set up an Online Forum with industry representatives and, echoing the general moves towards holding these companies to account for content, the ASA is developing Online Gatekeeping Standards.
Leisure and retail topped the list for the most sector complaints, with roughly 5000 complaints each. Food and drink saw a 36% jump. Notable initiatives which exemplify the ASA’s current strategy included the Botox crack-down. As a prescription-only medicine, ads relating to Botox are prohibited. The ASA engaged in a co-regulatory enforcement sector-wide compliance project, involving over 25 trade bodies, regulators and pharmaceutical companies and enforcement notices were sent to over 130,000 practitioners. Brandwatch was then used to proactively monitor Instagram and report them to Instagram for take-down.
While not detailed in the Report, an ad by Go Compare, which featured a car crashing into a tree, was the most complained about ad in 2019. The ad received criticism for its insensitive tone, however the ASA said it had “carefully assessed the complaints but do not consider there are grounds for further action”.
- What next?
We can expect more of the same for 2020 and beyond. 2019 was the first year of the 5 year strategy “More Impact Online”. Online requires a different approach and the ASA intends, over the next four years, to become a leader in AI-driven advertising regulation by building an internal data science capability. Capabilities to detect misleading advertising online will be further developed and we anticipate the ASA working more closely with those in the advertising ecosystem.
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