Digital Policy Guide

Digital Advertising Policy Guide
Welcome to the IAB UK’s guide to digital advertising policy and regulation. Everything you need to know about existing rules and regulations, as well as the key policy issues and debates shaping the market, and all in one place. Below you will find answers to a range of questions to help you get to grips with this area of our work. Simply click on the links to be taken to the relevant answer within this page.

Below you will find answers to a range of questions designed to help you get to grips with everything you need to know about current digital advertising regulations. Simply click on the links to be taken to the relevant answer within this page. 

How is digital advertising regulated in the UK? Give me a one-minute overview.

Digital advertising in the UK is regulated by a combination of legislative rules (such as the Data Protection Act of 1998 or the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) (Amendment) Regulations 2011 and self-regulatory rules such as the UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising and Direct and Promotional Marketing.  Self-regulation and good practice supplements legislation and fill the gaps where the law does not or cannot reach, offering an easier way of resolving disputes and adapting guides to new technologies and business models.

What are the basic rules businesses need to follow?

This can depend on whether you are an advertiser, agency, media owner or technology business. There are over 100 pieces of legislation affecting advertising in the UK. Two of the most prominent to be aware of are the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations of 2008 and the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) (Amendment) Regulations 2011.

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations of 2008 relate to unfair, misleading or aggressive marketing practices and are channel-neutral. In respect of advertising policy, this is regulated by Trading Standards.

Where the law applies to non-broadcast advertising, it is incorporated into the UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising and Direct and Promotional Marketing Code. The Code is a set of self-regulatory rules that applies to all advertising content in the UK, regardless of the channel used. The UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising and Direct and Promotional Marketing states that all marketing communications should be legal, decent, honest and truthful. They should not cause serious or widespread offence, exploit a consumer’s inexperience, mislead, cause fear or distress, condone or encourage unsafe practice or violence. The UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising and Direct and Promotional Marketing Code also has specific rules for a number of particular areas, such as age-restricted products (e.g. alcohol or gambling), marketing to children, health and beauty products and therapies, financial products, etc. 

The UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising and Direct and Promotional Marketing is administered and enforced by the independent Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). See below for further details.

We have produced guidance to help brand owners and marketing practitioners comply with consumer protection law and The UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising and Direct and Promotional Marketing provide transparency to consumers:

What about the use of data in online marketing? Is this regulated?

Yes. Most interactive advertising involves the collection and use of data to produce and measure relevant advertising, and the most basic and generic law governing all businesses in the sector is the Data Protection Act of 1998. This is a subset of the European Data Protection Directive of 1995. Both rules regulate the handling of personal information, key to a myriad of services from digital advertising to financial services. In light of the technological changes that have taken place in the last decade, the European Commission recently reviewed and updated the Data Protection rules in the EU. The new legislation was agreed in December 2015 and is due to take effect in 2018. See our policy issues page for the latest updates on the new rules and their implications for businesses.

In addition to this basic law, companies providing relevant advertising should explore their obligations under the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) (Amendment) Regulations 2011 and the EU Framework for Online Behavioral Advertising.  The core principles of the EU Framework are also incorporated into tThe UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising and Direct and Promotional Marketing . 

Who enforces compliance with the law?

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations of 2008 is enforced by the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). The CMA works to promote competition for the benefit of consumers, both within and outside the UK. Its aim is to make markets work well for consumers, businesses and the economy. However, in relation to advertising, Trading Standards is the legal backstop to the ASA. The collection and use of personal data is regulated by the Information Commissioner´s Office (ICO), the UK’s independent data protection authority, set up to uphold information rights in the public interest.  

What happens if an organisation does not comply with advertising self-regulatory rules?

The industry self-regulatory rules are administered and enforced by the independent Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The ASA is primarily funded by a 0.1 percent levy on ad spend, which is collected at agency level by the Advertising Standards Board of Finance (ASBOF).

The vast majority of advertisers abide by the rules. Howeverwhere the ASA upholds a complaint and the advert or marketing communication is not taken down voluntarily, the ASA may impose sanctions to enforce compliance. The number and seriousness of sanctions that the ASA can apply vary depending on the type of infringement but can include: the publication of the ASA rulings ontheir weekly bulletin, which brings adverse publicity for the advertiser; removing The UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising and Direct and Promotional Marketing members trading privileges and recognition; or in severe instances, referring the advertising to Trading Standards or Ofcom for further action.

In March 2011 the ASA’s digital remit was extended by industry to cover marketing communications in non-paid for space such as within websites and social media.

If you have any doubts about the creative you are developing please contact The UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising and Direct and Promotional Marketing Copy Advice.

Are there any sector specific rules or organisations that I should be aware of?

Yes. Depending on the sector, there are different groups who put in place rules for advertising. Many of these are complemented by the CAP Code.

  • Alcohol

Marketers should be aware of the Portman Group. This organisation advises on responsible marketing of alcohol products. Their Guide to Digital Marketing (2009) is a great resource for those planning a digital campaign. As well as giving advice on the responsible marketing of alcohol, they also provide guidance on exposure in online environments.

  • Financial Advertisements

The FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) regulates the marketing of financial products and they have produced guidance on financial promotions in social media. The guidance covers character limitations, the use of images, non-intended recipients and consumers forwarding or sharing communications. The guidance is available on the FCA’s website.

  • Gambling

The Gambling Commission is the body that licenses gambling in the UK. Under the Gambling (Licensing) Act 2014 only gambling operators licensed by the Gambling Commission are permitted to advertise to consumers in Great Britain.

The Gambling Commission offer guidance on the relevant UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising and Direct and Promotional Marketing  rules related to gambling and have produced a guide to gambling advertising codes.

The ASA can refer advertisers who breach the regulations to Ofcom or the Gambling Commission for potential additional sanctions. The ASA have produced a factsheet about the gambling advertising rules, including information about the review they carried out in 2014.

  • Medical Products

For the advertising of medical or pharmaceutical products, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is the regulator.

  • Children

The IAB UK supports the cross-industry Media Smart initiative that aims to increase media literacy among children.

In 2014 we launched a video with Media Smart called ‘What does the ad say’, as part of Media Smart's resources for parents. The Media Smart website was revamped and re-launched in summer 2015, and includes brand new resources for secondary school teachers covering advertising in social media. There is also a new parents guide to advertising and social media. For further information about marketing to children, see our most recent Fact Sheet.

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I still have questions – who do I contact?

For any questions on the work of IAB UK contact our policy team policy@iabuk.net and if you want to stay up to date with regulatory developments that affect your business, sign up to our monthly Policy Focus email.

Access a list of useful links which will help you to make sense of the policy and regulatory environment.