Dealing with viewer complaints

While we would like to think that all of our clearance decisions are infallible, unfortunately we
cannot guarantee that complaints will not be made to, and subsequently upheld by, the
Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

We make every effort to make sure that the ads we clear do not breach the rules in the TV
Advertising Standards Code but we can’t anticipate all complaints that might be made or be
sure that our views on interpretation will always be shared.

Since November 2004, the ASA has been responsible for dealing with complaints made about
TV advertising.

If, having considered a complaint about a TV ad, the ASA Executive thinks there is case to
answer, the complaint is investigated by one of their Investigations Executives. Before
starting an investigation, the ASA checks whether Clearcast has cleared the relevant ad;
that’s because we can’t comment on ads we have not cleared.

An investigation starts with receipt of a complaint notification from the ASA. The notification
sets out the complaints that have been made about the ads and Clearcast is asked to provide
a response to the ASA within seven days. Advertisers and/or agencies are also asked to
comment on complaints and to channel their responses through Clearcast. This is a crucial
part of the process and makes sure that Clearcast, which is responsible for the clearance of
the ad, is aware of all arguments put forward in defence of particular ads; it also ensures a
consistency in responses to the ASA.

The executive or manager responsible for clearing the ad responds to complaints and our
responses outline the reasons for our approval, any detailed consideration we may have
given to the advertisement and information on whether it was discussed at either our
Secretariat meeting, a group that consists of all Copy Group Managers, or the Copy
Committee which is a group of representatives from broadcasters for whom we clear ads. We
also provide any evidence received in support of claims and, if relevant, any report by an
external consultant.

On receipt of the responses, the ASA Executive deliberates on whether it considers the ad
breaches the Code; it draws up a draft recommendation, which is the ASA Executive’s
proposal to its Council on whether the complaint should be upheld or not. Clearcast and the
advertiser are given a chance to comment on the draft, before it is submitted to the ASA
Council for adjudication.

When the Council has considered the recommendation, the ASA notifies both Clearcast and
the advertiser of the decision. If the complaint is upheld Clearcast makes sure the decision is
communicated to the agency and that the approval of the advertisement is removed by
making it unacceptable on the clearance system. If the complaint is not upheld, no further
action is needed. The ASA’s adjudications are published on their website.

Sometimes a decision taken by the ASA Council means that Clearcast has to change the
advice it gives, not only to the advertiser whose ad has been complained about but to other
advertisers that have similar ads. So keeping up to date with all ASA adjudications is all part
of the job.

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