The ASA recently published its 2020 Annual Report, revealing some interesting trends:

  • The ASA's investment in new technologies seems to have paid dividends. The majority of cases in 2020 were the result of potentially non-compliant ads being automatically identified through tech-assisted online monitoring and enforcement - i.e. proactively, rather than in response to complaints.

  • Protecting vulnerable audiences is a key theme of the report. The ASA has expanded its use of Avatars (digital personalities posing as children) to explore what ads are being served to under age consumers. It has also implemented CCTV-style monitoring of websites and YouTube channels with predominantly young audiences, to see what ads are being served.

  • This more proactive approach contributed to a 346% increase (up to 36,491) in the number of ads amended or withdrawn last year.

  • As you would expect, complaints about outdoor and physical media (such as direct mail and leaflets) were down significantly due to the effects of the pandemic, but there was an increase of 43% in the number of complaints about TV ads.

Looking ahead, the ASA intends to continue to focus on online platforms, and is exploring (and discussing with Government) the possible introduction of new Online Platform and Network Standards, which would apply to the likes of Facebook and Google.

The results of the consultation on loot boxes and other in-game purchases launched in November 2020 will be reviewed in 2021, with a view to publishing new guidance later this year.

Lastly, non-compliance with ad labelling requirements by influencers continues to be a trend, with a compliance rate of less than 50% in most sectors (as identified in the March 2021 report). Complaints about influencers failing to identify their ads accounted for almost a quarter of all online cases, so expect to see more action on this in the year ahead.

The full report can be found here.