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Advertisements and promotions are a feature of modern life. Advertising techniques have rapidly evolved and now include, online behavioural advertising, native advertising and influencer advertising (e.g. in social media platforms like YouTube, Instagram and Twitter).

In the UK, the content of advertising, sales promotions and direct marketing across all media, including marketing on websites, is regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The advertising regulatory system is a mixture of:

  • self-regulation for non-broadcast advertising and
  • co-regulation for broadcast advertising 

Self-regulation means that the advertising industry has voluntarily established and paid for its own regulation. Co-regulation means the ASA is given responsibility on a day-to-day basis for regulating the content of broadcast (TV and radio) adverts under contract from Ofcom. 

The ASA regulates the content of adverts by enforcing its advertising codes; there are separate codes for non-broadcast and broadcast advertisements. However, all adverts are expected to be “legal, decent, honest and truthful”. The Advertising rules are regularly reviewed and updated by the ASA.

The ASA is independent of both the Government and the advertising industry. It is recognised by the Government and other regulators as the body to deal with complaints about advertising. Its remit includes acting on, and investigating complaints about, advertisements as well as proactively monitoring and acting against misleading, harmful or offensive advertisements, sales promotions and direct marketing. If a complaint about an advertisement is upheld, the advertiser must withdraw or amend the advertisement and not use the advertising approach again. If the advertiser does not comply, the ASA has other sanctions at its disposal. All ASA adjudications are published.  

This House of Commons briefing paper considers the regulation of advertising in the UK and provides an overview of the functions and remit of the ASA.


Documents to download

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