“More Impact Online”: Ad regulator launches five-year strategy

Louisa Cavell

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is today [Thurs 1st Nov 2018] launching its new five year strategy, with a clear focus and commitment to strengthening further the regulation of online ads – including exploring the use of machine learning in regulation. The strategy will be launched at the ASA’s conference in Manchester, entitled ‘The Future of Ad Regulation’.

The ASA, active for 57 years, is today established as the one-stop-shop for the regulation of ads across all media. The particular ‘online’ focus of the new strategy responds to the fact that businesses are increasingly advertising online, people are spending more time online, and the pace of change online is contributing to people’s concerns.  

Highlights of the strategy include the following:

  • The ASA will prioritise the protection of vulnerable people and appropriately limiting children and young people’s exposure to age-restricted ads in sectors like food, gambling and alcohol


  • The ASA will listen in new ways, including research, data-driven intelligence gathering and machine learning – its own or that of others - to find out which other advertising-related issues are the most important to tackle


  • The ASA will develop its thought-leadership in online ad regulation, including on advertising content and targeting issues relating to areas like voice, facial recognition, machine-generated personalised content and biometrics


  • The ASA will explore lighter-touch ways for people to flag concerns


  • The ASA will explore whether its decision-making processes and governance always allow it to act nimbly, in line with people’s expectations of regulating an increasingly online advertising world


  • The ASA will explore new technological solutions, including machine learning, to improve its regulation 

Online trends are reflected in the balance of the ASA’s workload - 88% of the 7,099 ads amended or withdrawn in 2017 following ASA action were online ads, either in whole or in part.  Meanwhile, two-thirds of the 19,000 cases resolved by the ASA last year were about online ads.  

The ASA’s guiding principle is that people should benefit from the same level of protection against irresponsible online ads as they do offline.  The Advertising Codes apply just as strongly online as they do to ads in more traditional media.  

This new strategy – setting the ASA’s direction to 2023 – will strengthen further the policing of online advertising to make sure people and responsible businesses are protected. 

Simultaneously, the ASA will continue to ensure standards in advertising across offline media, including TV, radio, press, outdoor, leaflets/brochures, cinema and others.

The ASA’s recent rebalancing towards more proactive regulation has had a positive impact, evidenced by steep rises in the number of ads withdrawn or changed (7,009 last year, up 47% on 2016) and the number of pieces of advice and training delivered to businesses (on course to exceed 400,000 this year).  This emphasis on proactive regulation – intervening before people need to complain about problematic ads – will continue under the new strategy.   

The launch event – ‘The Future of Ad Regulation’ conference - will take place at Manchester Central Convention Complex on 1st November.  Speakers will include Professor Tanya Byron, Reg Bailey, BBC Breakfast’s Tina Daheley, Marketing Week’s Russell Parsons, ASA Chief Executive Guy Parker and ASA Chairman David Currie.   

Guy Parker, ASA Chief Executive said:

“We’re a much more proactive regulator as a result of the work we’ve done in the last five years.  In the next five, we want to have even more impact regulating online advertising.  Online is already well over half of our regulation, but we’ve more work to do to take further steps towards our ambition of making every UK ad a responsible ad.”      

Lord Currie, Chairman of the ASA said:
“The new strategy will ensure that protecting consumers remains at the heart of what we do but that our system is also fit for purpose when regulating newer forms of advertising.  This also means harnessing new technology to improve our ways of working in identifying problem ads.”



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