Welcome to the ASA’s ‘Frequently Asked Questions’.
About the ASA
The ASA is the organisation that sets the standards for responsible advertising in New Zealand. The ASA also runs the advertising complaints processes. The ASA has 14 member organisations representing advertisers, agencies and the media.
The Advertising Codes set the standards for responsible advertising. They cover truthful presentation, and matters of social responsibility. There are specialist codes for advertising to Children and Young People and for categories including alcohol, financial advertising, gambling, therapeutic and health advertising.
No. The Advertising Standards Authority is an industry organisation. It is supported by advertisers, advertising agencies and media organisations to maintain standards in advertising. The Advertising Codes set out the rules that advertisements are to comply with to ensure they are responsible.
Self-regulation encourages the industry to take responsibility to ensure legal, decent, honest and truthful advertising communications to consumers. There are a number of incentives. Most advertisers do not want to deliberately mislead or offend current or potential customers. They understand the importance of responsible advertising of restricted products and engage with pre-vetting processes and code-compliance prior to the release / publication of advertising. If consumers trust advertising, it is more effective. Advertising self-regulation also works best alongside a legislative framework. There are over 50 pieces of legislation covering advertising content or placement in New Zealand.
The Advertising Standards Authority deals with complaints on all advertising in any media. The Broadcasting Standards Authority deals with complaints about programme content broadcast on radio or television, including programme promotions. The Media Council’s jurisdiction includes editorial content in magazines, newspapers, periodicals in circulation in New Zealand, including their websites, major broadcaster’s online news content and digital news content from Media Council member platforms. The Media Council also accepts complaints about classification of Video-on-Demand content from major providers in New Zealand.
The ASA’s definition of “advertising and advertisement” means any message, the content of which is controlled directly or indirectly by the advertiser, expressed in any language and communicated in any medium with the intent to influence the choice, opinion or behaviour of those to whom it is addressed.
This is a broad definition and it covers all advertisements placed in any media.
The ASA has a Codes Committee that develops the Codes. This committee is made up of advertiser, agency, media and public representatives and the Codes are approved by the ASA Governance Board. During the development or review of a Code, the committee may consult with relevant sectors, the general public and technical experts when required.
Who pre-vets therapeutic, health and alcohol advertisements and advertisements targeted to children and young people (TAPS / LAPPS / CAPS)?
Most ads are checked prior to being seen by consumers. The process to approve an advertisement differs between advertisers, product categories and media organisations. Many larger advertisers have detailed pre-vetting processes including regulatory checks and legal advice. Media organisations also have their own terms and conditions and guidelines on what they will and will not publish or broadcast. Some industry organisations also have advertising rules for their members to follow. Examples include, Medicines New Zealand, Self-Medication Industry, Pharmacy Guild, Cosmetics New Zealand, Medical Council of New Zealand and the International Code for Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes in New Zealand.
Anyone can complain about any advertisement. The ASA considers all complaints regardless of who has made the complaint. Each complaint is processed in the same way.
Most complaints are dealt with in two to three weeks. Detailed or complex complaints may take longer. The Complaints Board meets fortnightly to rule on complaints but can also meet at short notice if required.
A single complaint can stop an advertisement but needs to go through our process first. If the Chair rules there is a case to answer, as a matter of natural justice, the advertiser, the advertising agency and the media organisation (where relevant) are given seven days to respond to a complaint.
If the complaint is upheld by the Complaints Board, we request the advertisement be removed/changed and there is a high level of compliance with these requests.
The Advertising Standards Complaints Board makes decisions about complaints following responses from parties. The Complaints Board has nine members, five public and four industry and meets fortnightly. The average time to deal with complaints is about 12 days. Decisions may be appealed and if there are grounds for an appeal, the Appeal Board will re-consider the complaint. The Appeal Board has three members, two public and one industry and meets on demand. The ASA membership has no involvement in the work of the Complaints and Appeal Boards.
No Grounds to Proceed/No Further Action: This means the Chair of the Complaints Board has reviewed the complaint and has ruled a Code has not been breached, and no further action is required. This outcome may occur when a complaint is based on extreme interpretation or is trivial or vexatious, or if there is a precedent decision that relates to the same or similar advertising.
Upheld: This means the Complaints Board agreed with the issues raised by the complainant and the advertiser is asked to amend or remove the advertisement.
Settled: When an advertiser either withdraws an advertisement or makes immediate changes (that the Chair considers satisfactory) to address the issues raised by the complainant the complaint can be settled by the Chair. A settled decision achieves the same outcome as an upheld decision – removal or amendment of the advertisement.
Not Upheld: This means the Complaints Board does not find the advertisement in breach of the Advertising Codes in relation to the Complainant’s concerns.
No Jurisdiction: Sometimes a complaint is outside the jurisdiction of the ASA. The ASA deals with complaints about any advertisement that is targeted at NZ audiences. Matters of law or complaints about advertisements from outside of NZ, which are not targeting NZ consumers, are outside the ASA’s jurisdiction.
If an advertisement is found to be in breach of the ASA Codes, it must be removed and / or amended. This request is made to the advertiser, agency and media directly after Complaints Board meetings. There is an excellent rate of compliance for this process that is essentially voluntary. In addition, all decisions are released to the media and often receive considerable publicity, some may argue the media coverage may be disproportionate to the level of breach against the advertiser and such negative publicity is also a driver for compliance.
The work of the ASA is complementary to legislation. If a regulatory authority considers there has been a serious breach, then there are a number of bodies who could prosecute such a case, including the Commerce Commission, Medsafe and the Financial Markets Authority.
The ASA has a database of decisions on its website. Parties to a complaint will receive a copy of the decision and be given a date that the decision will be available on the ASA website. The ASA has a “Decisions Alert” that interested parties can subscribe to and every few days, this alert is emailed with a list of the most recently released decisions.
Why are there no fines to make advertisers take down the advertisement if the complaint is upheld?
The ASA runs a voluntary process which is able to deal with complaints about advertising in very short time-frames. If the advertisement is in breach of the Advertising Codes, it is removed or changed. This can be a considerable cost to the Advertiser, depending on the type of advertisement or campaign. In addition, all the decisions are released to the public and media via the ASA website and are often reported. This can result in a reputational risk for the company.
If the ASA had the ability to enforce a fine, our process would have to be more legalistic and it would take longer. Ad campaigns are often short and action to address any concerns is needed in weeks, not months.
Government regulators can prosecute advertisers for misleading and deceptive conduct. These include the Commerce Commission, Financial Markets Authority, Ministry for Primary Industries and Medsafe.
What happens if an advertiser does not amend or remove an advertisement when the complaint is upheld?
Most advertisers support self-regulation and responsible advertising and don’t deliberately mislead or offend consumers. However, advertising is a creative business and does push boundaries from time to time. If the advertiser pushes too far and a complaint is upheld almost all advertisers will remove or change the advertisement. In a small number of cases where this does not occur, the ASA may send an Ad Alert to media members. An Ad Alert is a quick way for the ASA to alert the media to a non-compliant advertisement or advertiser and the media can remove the advertisement from publication or broadcast.
The ASA may also refer the issue to a relevant industry organisation to request their assistance. In some cases, referral to the relevant regulator or local council may be considered.
Media coverage of decisions can also assist with compliance, along with consumer decisions not to engage with the relevant brand or company.
Making a Complaint?
The Advertising Standards Complaints Board does not accept anonymous complaints, in part to ensure the consumer complaints process is not held up by anonymous competitor complaints.
The complainants name and contact details are not recorded in the decisions and rulings of the Complaints Board and the Complaints Appeal Board, which are publicly available. If the complaint is on behalf of an organisation the name of the organisation will be recorded in the decision.
Please note as part of the complaints process, an original copy of your complaint excluding your name and contact details will be forwarded to the Advertiser, and any other party to the complaint, in order for them to respond formally to your complaint. Parties are not able to contact complainants directly and must address all correspondence relating to the complaint to the ASA.
When you make a complaint to the ASA you sign a waiver agreeing not to take your complaint to another forum. This prevents complainants from ‘shopping around’ to obtain their most preferred decision.
Responding to a Complaint?
All parties associated with an advertisement are expected to respond to the ASA following a complaint. This includes the advertiser and may also include the agency and the media where the advertisement was placed.
The Secretariat is able to discuss short extensions to deadlines to respond to a complaint. If a party requests a longer extension, the Chair would rule on whether or not there were reasonable grounds. A longer extension is more likely to be granted if the advertising is no longer being published / broadcast.