Handling viewer complaints

What happens if someone complains about your ad

People complain about TV adverts for all sorts of reasons. Even if an ad passed our clearance service easily, people may still choose to complain. And there’s nothing we — or you — can do about this.

In the UK, complaints are handled by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). When the ASA receives a complaint, it investigates to see if there’s a case to answer.

The ASA’s job is to make sure ads don’t breach the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising. We check all ads against the Code, but — like any set of rules — it’s open to interpretation. Occasionally, the ASA doesn’t agree with our interpretation.

How we help with complaints

If the ASA decides there is a case to answer, it will begin an investigation and request a response from us, from the advertiser, and from any agencies involved in creating the ad.

This gives you a chance to defend the ad and gives us the opportunity to explain why we cleared it.

The ASA expects all responses to be channeled through us. We’ll work with you to collate and deliver appropriate, consistent comments within the seven-day deadline.

In our response, we’ll explain:

  • Why we approved the ad for broadcast
  • Any specific points we considered when approving the ad
  • When we discussed the ad and how we arrived at the decision

We’ll also provide relevant evidence that supports claims and includes consultants’ reports if they were involved in the approval process.

After we’ve responded

Once we’ve sent our response to the ASA, it evaluates this and decides whether it thinks the ad breaches the Code. It puts its findings into a draft recommendation, on which we’ll be given the chance to comment. It then goes to the ASA Council for adjudication.

Once the Council has made its decision on the recommendation, the ASA will notify both us and the advertiser.

  • If the complaint is upheld, we’ll make sure you understand what the decision means and mark the ad as not approved in our system.
  • If the complaint is not upheld, great news: we don’t need to do anything and — if still running — the ad can continue to air as normal.

Keeping up with the ASA

When the ASA rules on a complaint, it can have an effect on both the ad in question and on other advertisers. We analyse all ASA decisions, updating our guidance in line with the ASA’s interpretation of the rules. 

Related information: