March 23, 2020
The ASA says that it is very conscious that in this time of national crisis it must act sensitively and with due regard to the circumstances faced by businesses and members of the public. In practice, this means applying a “lightness of touch” in some areas of its work, and in other areas “an uncompromising stance” on companies or individuals seeking to use advertising to exploit the circumstances for their own gain.
The ASA says that this approach reflects the prioritisation principles it adopts in the normal course of its work, but it understands that businesses and members of the public “may want additional clarification about what this means in the context of COVID19”.
The ASA explains that it means a commitment to act quickly and robustly against ads that exploit people’s health-related anxieties and the difficult financial or employment circumstances that many people are now facing. It also means a refusal to tolerate ads that grossly undermine public health advice or that seriously misjudge public and minority group sensitivities. Further, it means an eagle-eyed diligence to spot any emerging advertising practices that grossly undermine the principles of fair competition generally accepted in business or where the ASA sees evidence of ads that irresponsibly take advantage of current retail conditions.
At the same time, the ASA says, it means being acutely sensitive to the existential threat faced by many businesses and to the plurality of media that depends on a healthy advertising market. It means knowing when to reduce to a minimum its regulatory interventions and when to prefer an advisory approach over an investigatory one in circumstances where the advertising indiscretion is relatively minor or could not have been foreseen, e.g. the lack of product availability for reasons connected to COVID19. Most importantly, the ASA says that it means “being open and understanding to the concerns of all of our stakeholders and not sticking rigidly to process and procedure where a tailored approach may be merited”.
The ASA wants to ensure a consistency of approach, not only to areas where it can and should display “regulatory forbearance”, as suggested by the Chancellor, but also to areas where it must act decisively to ads that grossly undermine the UK’s response to the crisis we are facing. To read the ASA’s statement in full, click here.