The ASA’s 2022 Annual Report shows that it is taking an increasingly proactive approach to the regulation of advertising in the UK, especially in the digital sphere. ‘Green claims’, cryptocurrency and age-restricted ads remained key areas of focus in 2022. Influencer advertising, cryptocurrency ads and green claims remain in the crosshairs for 2023.
On 16 May 2023, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Committees of Advertising practice (CAP), which write and administer the rules on marketing in the UK, released their 2022 Annual Report (the Report).
The ASA’s maturing data science capabilities
The Report emphasises the ASA’s increasingly proactive approach to regulation. Rather than manually searching for ads that might break the rules, new AI and machine learning tools were used to capture content automatically to help the ASA identify the highest priority ads for review. The ASA has also grown its in-house data science team to help analyse ads and identify potential breaches.
94% of the ads which were withdrawn or amended during 2022 resulted from the ASA’s proactive work, including tech-assisted monitoring.
Continued scrutiny of ‘green’ claims
‘Green’ claims were one of the ASA’s key focus areas in 2022, which more than doubled the number of formal investigations resulting in a publicised ruling from 2021 levels. The ASA is expected to continue to closely scrutinise green and broader sustainability-related claims throughout 2023.
As we have previously reported, the ASA’s Climate Change and Environment Project picked up pace in 2022, publishing updated guidance on green claims as well as consumer perception research into common ‘green’ claims (such as ‘net zero’ and ‘carbon neutral’). During 2023, the ASA intends to closely monitor ads which make such claims, and publish further sector-specific guidance as it has already done for travel and motoring, for example. Although not mentioned in the Report, the ASA also intends to conduct research into waste-related claims (such as ‘recyclable’ and ‘biodegradable’) as well as green claims in the meat, dairy and plant-based substitute markets.
Increasingly tough stance on crypto assets and NFTs
The ASA also stepped up enforcement against cryptocurrency and NFT advertising in 2022. Describing it as a ‘red alert’ issue, with compliance issues identified in all in-remit ads online, the ASA was particularly concerned that consumers were not being properly informed of the risks of these types of investments. Although a significant improvement in compliance was reported by the end of 2022, we expect that the ASA will continue to keep a close eye on crypto advertising in coming months.
Influencing online influencers
The ASA has stepped up its focus on online influencers, particularly to ensure that marketing communications are clearly identifiable as such. As well as increasing enforcement activity, the ASA published updated guidance for online influencers in an effort to avoid issues before they arise.
Protecting children and young people from harmful ads
The Report notes that the ASA’s research indicates that children’s average level of exposure to alcohol and gambling ads is continuing to decline. Little detail is provided on enforcement activity during 2022, but the ASA published new guidance during the year which it hopes will further reduce children’s exposure to age-restricted ads, by helping advertisers and their agencies develop robust ad-targeting procedures.
The Report also reflects on the introduction during 2022 of a new rule banning content with ‘strong appeal’ to under-18s (including celebrities and sports stars).
Cost of living crisis
The Advertising Advisory Committee (AAC), which develops and updates the Advertising Codes undertook a project relating to whether marketing by telecoms companies is sufficiently clear for consumers in relation to the practice of raising prices mid-contract. The ASA is reviewing responses to that consultation, and will consider next steps (for example, further guidance for industry) during 2023.