Maintaining and supporting the effectiveness of the self-regulatory adverting system in the UK is a key ISBA objective. ISBA is the advertiser’s representative on the CAP and BCAP committees and on the funding body – ASBOF.

Advertising self-regulation provides an effective consumer focused complaints system.  It is actively supported and paid for by advertisers. Survey results show that the independent adjudicator, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), has a good level of public awareness and receives complaints about issues and events for which it has no responsibility but for which it is able to help redirect to statutory regulators.

Globally ISBA is a founder member of the ICC Advertising and Marketing Code. In the EU the appeal of self regulation is growing as a flexible way of achieving common standards. .



April 2016

CAP codes updated to include restrictions from EU on advertising e-cigarettes containing nicotine

ISBA request to CAP to review the use of nutrient profiling for HFSS food and soft drinks results in a proposal to extend the BCAP rules to online and non broadcast media. A public consultation will take place in May-July 



In their own words ...

“The ASA is the UK's independent regulator of advertising across all media, including marketing on websites. We work to ensure ads are legal, decent, honest and truthful by applying the Advertising Codes”

ISBA’s special role

ISBA is the advertiser’s sole representative in the self-regulatory system.  We are directors of the Committee of Advertising Practice and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP & BCAP); in this role we act to ensure the system and the codes are effective for all concerned, including detailed work in the drafting of the rules.  We are also a board member of the funding bodies (ASBOF and BASBOF) that receive the levy payments and hold the ASA to account financially.


The ASA was formed in 1966 through the active work of ISBA and the other bodies that make up the Advertising Association membership. It followed strong pressure from the then government demanding restrictive laws on advertising. In 2002 ISBA campaigned to have the work done through the non broadcast advertising code (CAP) extended by taking on the regulation of TV and radio advertising that had been the responsibility of the state regulators, ITC and Radio Authority.  This was successful with the birth of the BCAP code, made possible by the passing of the Communications Act.

How it works

The codes are written and owned by the advertising industry – CAP and BCAP.  However the committees are advised by staff from the wider ASA team; the codes are also subject to the advice of the TSI and the Government for CAP and Ofcom for BCAP.  The BCAP code needs Ofcom’s formal approval.

The ASA staff and Council investigate and adjudicate on advertisements, publishing their rulings and sending them to the media for taking down or refusal to publish.

Anyone can complain to the ASA about an ad; some complaints are from competitors; some investigations are the result of work done by the ASA without a complaint being made.

The system is funded by advertisers paying a levy on their media spending.  This is collected by the agencies and paid directly to ASBOF and BASBOF who redistribute it to the ASA on the basis of their annual budget.

Following an upheld complaint the media owners are notified that the advertisement should not be shown or used.  In some cases, for non broadcast, advertisers may also be required to obtain prior approval for future ads.  TV and radio ads are generally pre vetted by Clearcast for TV and the Radio Centre as a condition of the broadcasters licence.

When advertisers refuse to act on the rulings of the ASA Council other regulators may step in and enforce the law.  The OFT is currently the backstop power for non-broadcast advertising and Ofcom for TV and radio.  Trading standards officers are also empowered under the UK Consumer Protection Regulations.


There are some serious benefits of self-regulation over and above State law making. For the consumer it is an independent, speedy and free means to get something put right.  Where there are no systems of self-regulation there is no alternative to using the courts.  This can be both expensive and can take a great deal of time.

It is also possible to keep the rules up to date without the need to go though the detailed and time consuming process of drafting and passing new laws in Westminster or Brussels.

Things it cannot do

Self-regulation is effective in achieving a high level of consumer protection from misleading advertising and on issues of taste and decency but is no substitute for the law where illegal acts are being commissioned and citizens the victims of fraud etc.

Nor can the system provide financial recompense for the actions of advertisers.

EU action

The UK ASA is a member of the European Advertising Standards Alliance that brings together all the Self-regulatory Organisations (SROs) in the EU and wider together with representatives of the advertising industry.  The World Federation of advertisers represents IBSA. See for more details.


Global advertising rules

The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Marketing and Advertising Code is the global standard and mother code for most countries.  ISBA helped launch the code in 1939.  We are active members of the Marketing and Advertising Commission which regularly revises the code.  In the UK the ICC advertising committee is chaired by ISBA.  Visit the ICC at for a wider appreciation of the range and scope of the Commissions work.