By Claire Sng

Yesterday at a conference hosted by the UK advertising regulator, the ASA, billed as “The future of ad regulation”, the ASA announced its new 5 year plan entitled “More impact online”, with an ambition of making every UK ad responsible (see link here).

Reflecting on the change in landscape that has occurred, Guy Parker, Chief Executive of the ASA, who unveiled the new strategy, noted that despite only being within the ASA’s remit since 2011, online “advertiser-owned ” ads (e.g. ads on company websites and social media pages) account for over half of the ASA’s work and in 2017 around 88% of ads that were amended or withdrawn were online ads (in whole or in part).

The new strategy has 6 strands:

  1. People– putting people first and making sure regulation benefits everyone not just those that complain to the ASA; including using machine learning and data gathering to work out what peoples’ priorities are;
  2. Online– improving regulation, including by working with platforms. One example given at the conference was asking platforms to use their technology to remove misleading claims that have already been adjudged misleading by the ASA;
  3. Effectiveness– better prioritisation; exploring machine learning to improve regulation such as using algorithms to test claims being made by advertisers (an example given at the conference was to test whether a claim that no delivery charge applied to UK mainland deliveries was true if you entered a particular postcode into the advertiser’s website);
  4. Buy in– trying to improve engagement by online-only advertisers, retailers, SME businesses and influencers;
  5. Enforcement – focussing on improving how non-compliant ads are proactively identified and removed and improving sanctions. (There was no more detail provided about sanctions at the conference. The strategy paper talks about cooperation and use of technology, but it will be interesting to hear more details as the strategy starts to be implemented next year); and
  6. Independence– providing evidence based decisions.

Overall what is clear is that the ASA is aiming to embrace use of new technology, AI and machine based learning, both to support research and thought leadership but also to identify and tackle non-compliant ads in order to seek to provide online regulation that is fit for the future. Margot James, Minister of State for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, was not able to be at the conference, but provided comments by video and this is something she picked up on; noting that in an age of a decline in trust and the current levels of consumption of digital, innovative thinking is what is needed.

In addition to the strategy, there were lively panel debates about protecting children online and about regulating new forms of advertising, both of which are important elements of the new strategy. In respect of these topics, the ASA wanted people’s thoughts on the following two questions:

  1. What do you think should be the ASA’s priority for regulating newer forms of advertising?
  2. What do you think should be the ASA’s priority for protecting children online?

If you have a view on these topics, I’m sure the ASA would welcome your thoughts.