Insights Advertising Standards Authority and Committees of Advertising Practice publish 2020 Annual Report

The ASA and CAP say that the 2020 Annual Report reveals how they are transforming the way they regulate to make sure young and vulnerable people are protected from misleading, harmful or irresponsible ads.

Last year, the regulators’ work resulted in a record 36,491 ads being amended or withdrawn, a 346% increase on 2019. Other key figures in the Report reveal that:

  • online cases made up 61% of all cases and nearly half of all complaints across media: 17,379 complaints about 14,512 cases;
  • TV complaints increased by 43% (perhaps reflecting increased viewership during lockdown) but only made up 1/5 of all cases: 14,211 complaints about 5,070 cases;
  • complaints about influencer posts decreased by 8%, but still made up almost 1/4 of online cases; and
  • the health and beauty sector had the most ads amended and withdrawn.

The report highlights the range of work that CAP and the ASA carried out, which they say was extensive, but focused on protecting young and vulnerable people. They worked closely with key enforcement partners, including the MHRA, CMA, National Trading Standards, Gambling Commission and online platforms, which bolstered their regulation and led to them taking important consumer protection action, including:

  • fast tracking and prioritising tackling harmful or irresponsible Covid-19 ad related claims;
  • issuing a joint Enforcement Notice with the MHRA instructing IV Drip Clinics not to imply that the drips could prevent or treat Covid-19;
  • continuing the ongoing monitoring sweeps of children’s online media to identify and tackle age-restricted ads that were irresponsibly placed or served;
  • launching the Scam Ad Alert system, in partnership with the major digital advertising and social media platforms, including Facebook and Google, to help tackle bogus ads that leave consumers out of pocket;
  • issuing another Enforcement Notice with the MHRA to advertisers promoting licensed injectable prescription only medicines for weight loss on social media (which is prohibited by law), and following-up, using monitoring software both to identify and report similar ads for immediate removal and to identify 150 advertisers who were breaking the rules;
  • clamping down on irresponsible Buy Now Pay Later ads and taking action against misleading Debt Advice companies; and
  • putting Influencers on notice after a proactive monitoring sweep of over 24,000 posts revealed the proportion of them sticking to the rules is far below what the regulators would expect.

The report also sets out the work the ASA and CAP have started on other key projects, including Climate Change and harmful racial and ethnic stereotypes, and contains case studies on:

  • body image;
  • financial detriment;
  • protecting children and young people;
  • wider societal harms;
  • working with online platforms; and
  • Covid-19 and casework.

The report also highlights how the ASA and CAP are responding to calls for more accountability and transparency for online platforms. Social media platforms already play an important part in upholding the advertising rules online. Building on these foundations, the ASA and CAP have engaged with the Government and the online advertising industry to explore strengthening their regulation online: holding platforms to greater account for the role they play in upholding the advertising rules and being open and transparent about how they perform. To read the press release accompanying the Report and for access to the report in full, click here.