What marketing communications are covered?
The Code of Standards for Advertising and Marketing Communications in Ireland applies to commercial marketing communications and to sales promotions that promote the sales of goods or services. Section 2 of the Code contains full details of the marketing communications that are covered.
Non-commercial marketing communications, i.e. those which express the advertiser’s position on a political, religious, industrial relations, social or aesthetic matter or an issue of public concern, are not subject to the Code.
What obligations are involved?
The Code, which is based on the principles established by the International Chamber of Commerce requires that all marketing communications:
- should be legal, decent, honest and truthful
- should be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and society
- should respect the principles of fair competition generally accepted in business.
The Code contains that apply to all products and there are additional requirements for particular products or sectors. In general terms, the rules are designed to ensure that marketing communications do not mislead or cause general offence.
The same principles apply to sales promotions including special offers involving vouchers, coupons or samples, reduced price or free offers, prize promotions and competitions. In addition, the detailed rules for such schemes are set out in Section 5 – Promotional Marketing Practices.
The Code is applied in spirit as well as in the letter.
How to complain
We can examine complaints about the content and targeting of marketing communications.
If you object to the content of a commercial marketing communication (advertisement, promotion, direct mail, etc) on TV, radio, online, internet, posters, brochures, newspapers, magazines, emails, cinema, direct mailings, etc., or to sales promotional material, you can submit your complaint through our online complaint form or write to us by letter with your full name and address and also providing, as far as you can:
- a screen shot of the advertisement if online,
- a copy of the marketing communication, if possible, (i.e. press, magazine, etc)
- details of when and where it appeared
- the name of the advertiser
- in the case of sales promotions, the name of the product and the promoter and copies of labels, leaflets or entry forms
- in the case of a direct mailing, a copy of the envelope as well as the mailing
- the reasons why you consider the advertising to be wrong.
- confirmation as to whether you are objecting as an individual consumer or as a competitor.
Or you can use our on-line complaint form
Complaints are investigated free of charge. To the extent permitted by law, the identity of an individual consumer complainant remains confidential unless a commercial or other interest is involved in making a complaint. Complainants may be asked to confirm that they have no such interest.
Our address is:-
The Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland,
7 Herbert Street
Phone: (01) 613 7040
A complaint is evaluated initially by the ASAI Executive to determine whether it comes within the terms of reference of the Code and whether there is a prima facie case for investigation.
Where the Executive determines that there is a prima facie case for investigation, an investigation is commenced and the advertiser or promoter (or the advertising/promotional marketing agency involved) is informed of the complaint and invited to comment on it in relation to the Code. They are required to respond, and to submit substantiation where necessary, within such period as the Executive may request, normally within ten days.
On receiving the response, the Executive, where it considers that circumstances warrant it, prepares a summary of the case. This will include any facts or advice that the Executive has gathered. It will include the Executive’s Recommendation to the Complaints Committee in relation to what the Committee’s decision might be on the marketing communication’s compliance with the Code and whether the complaint should be upheld. It may also recommend other courses of action ot the Committee.
The complainant and the advertiser/promoter or agency are provided with a copy of the Executive’s Recommendation and are given an opportunity to express any further views in the matter at that stage within a period which the Executive may specify, before referral to the Complaints Committee.. The case, including any views received on the Recommendation, is then submitted by the Executive to the independent Complaints Committee, which decides whether or not the Code rules have been contravened.
Details of the case including the name of the advertiser/promoter and the agency and the Complaints Committee’s conclusion, but not the name of a consumer complainant, are set out in a Case Report which, at the discretion of the Committee, is released to media for publication and posted on the ASAI’s website www.asai.ie.
A marketing communication which has contravened the rules of the Code is required to be amended or withdrawn . In the case of a sales promotion, the promoter may be requested to make the necessary changes to the way the promotion is communicated or conducted and, where appropriate, may also be asked to recompense any consumers who have been adversely affected.
Notwithstanding the above, the investigation procedure and the consideration by the Complaints Committee may be accelerated or otherwise varied where circumstances warrant. If a case is considered by the Executive, in its absolute discretion, to be particularly grave, the Executive may request interim action by the advertiser/promoter or agency, including the immediate amendment or withdrawal of a marketing communication or promotion pending completion of the investigation and adjudication by the Complaints Committee.
Complaints by competitors
The ASAI is not an arbitration service for disputes between commercially interested parties. These disputes are best resolved by direct discussions between the parties or through their appropriate trade associations.
An intra-industry complaint may be investigated by ASAI where the interests of consumers are involved and, subject to the other provisions of the Code, a decision by the ASAI whether or not to investigate a complaint in such circumstances is a matter entirely within its discretion. In cases where the ASAI does exercise its discretion to decide to investigate, complainants may be required to substantiate their complaints. The identity of the complainant is revealed to the advertiser or promoter and both parties are named in the published Case Report. The Authority has the option of issuing a statement rather than a formal decision where this is appropriate.
Where in the course of an investigation of an intra-industry complaint the ASAI decides that it is necessary for it to obtain independent expert opinion, the complainant shall be liable for the cost/fees involved and will be required to discharge same before the investigation can continue. For the avoidance of doubt, if the complainant does not pay such costs/fees, the investigation will be terminated and the parties informed.
The Complaints Committee comprises persons with a background in the advertising industry and those who do not have an advertising background. The structure of the Committee ensures that the majority of members are not employed in, or have a background in, the advertising industry. These lay members have an interest and expertise in relevant areas such as consumer protection, child and adolescent welfare, the sciences and community issues. The Committee at present comprises an independent Chairperson and thirteen members. The composition of the Complaints Committee and the participation of the independent members ensures the objectivity of the complaint investigation procedure and provides assurance that the system is operated with special regard to the interests of consumers. The members of the Complaints Committee, each acting in an individual capacity, consider each case on its merits taking account of the characteristics of the likely audience, the media by means of which the marketing communication is communicated, the location and context of the marketing communication, the nature of the advertised product and the nature, content and form of any associated material made available or action recommended to consumers.
Where a complaint falls outside the terms of reference of the ASAI, for example, because it does not relate to the content of a marketing communication, or where there is no apparent case for investigation, the complaint will not be pursued and the reason will be explained to the complainant. Where possible ASAI will help the complainant to contact the most appropriate source of assistance.
The ASAI does not wish to unnecessarily duplicate the work of other regulatory bodies. Where it would be more appropriate for a complaint to be investigated or dealth with by another body, the ASAI will endeavour to provide relevant information or will endeavour to direct the complainant to the most appropriate body.
The Code does not prejudice consumers’ or advertisers’ rights under law. Complaints will normally not be pursued if:
- The same issue in the complaint, or the same subject matter of the complaint, involve matters that have been resolved in the Courts.
- Any party to a complaint, or a third party, has initiated legal action with a view to commencing, or has commenced, litigation or another alternative dispute resolution process which relates to a complaint, or the subject matter of a complaint.
Enforcement and sanctions
Publication of the Case Reports of the Complaints Committee, including names of advertisers, promoters and agencies involved, is an important element of the self-regulatory system. A marketing communication which breaks the rules must be withdrawn or amended and media will refuse to publish a marketing communication which fails to conform to Code requirements.
A member who does not accept ASAI decisions may be disciplined by the Board and may be subject to penalties including fines and/or suspension of membership.
Compulsory Copy Advice
The ASAI Board may require advertisers whose marketing communications persistently and/or gravely breach the Code to have some or all of their proposed marketing communications subjected to Copy Advice until the ASAI is satisfied that future communications are likely to comply with the Code.
In particular, if an advertiser seems to have deliberately flouted the Code with the intention of generating complaints, PR and subsequent notoriety, the ASAI can request the advertiser and the media to submit for a stated period any of the advertisers’ proposed marketing communications to check their compliance with the Code.
Copy Advice Service
Advertisers, agencies, media and promoters can obtain copy advice from the ASAI on whether a proposed marketing communication or sales promotion conforms to the Code. Copy advice is communicated confidentially, is non-binding and is given free of charge. It is not definitive advice as to whether a proposed marketing communication or sales promotion would, if later complained about, lead to a finding by the Complaints Committee that it did or did not conform to the Code. Rather, it is an authorative opinion, given by the Executive, which does not bind the ASAI.
The ASAI will be in no way liable for any consequences that flow from a decision to heed or ignore Copy Advice.
There may be occasions when an advertiser, a media owner or agency is concerned that a proposed marketing communication, which is not subject to the Code, may cause offence. On request, the ASAI will give informal advice in such cases.
Copy Advice is not provided to unrelated third parties.
If you would like to avail of the ASAI Copy Advice service, please contact us:
The self-regulatory system is funded entirely by the advertising industry and involves no charge to consumers or to the State. Costs are shared across the industry, ensuring that all advertising sectors participate but that none exercises any special influence over ASAI operations. This independent status is a key factor in maintaining public confidence in the self-regulatory system.
European Advertising Standards Alliance
ASAI is a founder member of the European Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA). EASA – the European Advertising Standards Alliance is the single authoritative voice on advertising self-regulation. EASA promotes high ethical standards in commercial communications by means of effective self-regulation, for the benefit of consumers and business in Europe and beyond.
Effective advertising self-regulation helps ensure responsible advertising, meeting consumers’ demand for honesty and transparency, regulators’ demand for responsibility and engagement and businesses’ demand for freedom to operate responsibly. EASA and its members have developed a robust and coherent system of advertising self-regulation that can respond effectively to new challenges.
EASA is not a Self-Regulatory Organisation (SRO) in itself, but acts as a co-ordination point for best practice in the implementation of self-regulation, as well as operational standards for its national SRO members. EASA’s Best Practice Recommendations are designed to provide support and advice SROs and industry members on the practice of advertising self-regulation. Part of EASA’s role involves coordinating the cross-border complaint mechanism that has been in operation since 1992, when it was set up in response to the creation of the Single Market and the resulting need to address problems whereby advertising circulated in one EU Member State was carried in media originating in another. EASA also collects and analyses top line statistical data on received and resolved complaints, as well as on copy advice requests and pre-clearance from its SRO members each year.
EASA was set up in 1992 to represent national self-regulatory organisations in Europe, in 2004 it developed into a partnership between national advertising SROs and organisations representing the advertising industry. Today, EASA is a network of 54 organisations committed to making sure advertising is legal, decent, honest and truthful. EASA’s membership is made up of 38 SROs from Europe and beyond, and 16 advertising industry associations, including advertisers, agencies and the media. EASA is a not-for-profit organisation with a Brussels-based Secretariat. For further information please visit www.easa-alliance.org.
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