In line with its strategic aim to have more impact and be more proactive in how it regulates, the ASA is to start putting a stronger focus on those issues where there is the greatest potential detriment or harm. This will allow it to have the biggest impact on the issues that matter most, benefitting consumers, society and responsible advertisers alike.
In February the ASA announced the introduction of new Prioritisation Principles to guide its work. The principles were developed to help it decide what resource it should commit, or activity it should undertake, in response to issues identified through complaints (and other channels). From Monday, 23 November, it will be using those principles to help it decide when it will investigate issues that potentially break the rules and when it can deal with the issues by other means.
It’s important to stress that, where a complaint indicates the rules have been broken, the ASA will always act. It has always varied its approach to complaint handling depending on the nature of the issues raised, resolving cases informally where possible and in so doing avoiding the lengthier process of formal investigation. However, it will now be making greater use of advice and guidance as an alternative to its existing investigation processes to help advertisers stick to the rules. The ASA is confident that responsible advertisers will follow that advice, and it’s important that they do.
Most complainants and advertisers won’t be affected by this policy because the best course of action in many cases will still be to deal with complaints as before, either by informal resolution with an advertiser or by a formal ASA ruling. Where this new policy does apply to a complaint, the ASA will write to the advertiser and complainant explaining its decision and the action it has taken.
By introducing the option of writing to advertisers who have potentially broken the rules instead of initiating an investigation, the ASA has developed an approach that allows it to act proportionately in response to complaints received whilst freeing up the time it needs to focus on the issues that matter most. Those issues might be dealt with through a formal investigation or by other means, such as sector wide work, as it continues to develop the processes needed to become a more proactive regulator.