The Relationship Between ASA and BCAP Compliance Codes Explained

Aug 25, 2023 / Industry Insights / FOTW

Understand the different BCAP compliance codes and how to ensure your ads will adhere to ASA standards.

Although many might not spare much thought, there’s a meticulous behind-the-scenes process before an advertisement gets its moment on the UK’s screens. It’s a country known for its discretion in broadcast content. After all, when you’re settling down for your favourite show, isn’t it only right to expect that any commercial interruption is both appropriate and inoffensive? Thankfully, the UK’s stringent checks ensure just that, allowing viewers to indulge in their TV time, worry-free.

While the digital realm has seen exponential growth, the traditional charm of television commercials remains unrivalled, standing strong as a potent tool for brand building and expansion. The vast canvas of television allows businesses to reach out to a broad audience, offering a different scale and kind of engagement than most internet platforms. However, the challenge lies not just in crafting impactful commercials but also in ensuring they align with the regulatory rigours set by institutions like ASA and BCAP.

In this guide, we delve into the intertwined universe of ASA and BCAP, elucidating their pivotal roles and how, with the right guidance, advertisers can masterfully and compliantly harness the power of TV advertising.


What Are BCAP Codes?

BCAP Codes, devised by the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice, are the gold standard for ethical advertising in the UK. They act as a comprehensive guide for advertisers, ensuring commercials are both engaging and ethically sound.

Rooted in Britain’s commitment to quality broadcasting, these codes set clear boundaries in advertising. From ensuring legitimate product claims to prescribing appropriate imagery, BCAP Codes play a pivotal role. A notable example is their regulation of children’s advertising, preventing direct sales prompts, thereby safeguarding young viewers.

Understanding and adhering to BCAP Codes isn’t just a regulatory step. It’s the pathway to earning viewers’ trust and ensuring that television remains a respected platform for brand messaging.

Overview of BCAP codes

If you’re planning to develop a TV advert in the UK, you first need to make sure that you are aware of the BCAP codes. This is so that you can create the right TV ad and ensure that it gets television clearance.

With that in mind, here is an overview of the 33 BCAP codes:


  1. Compliance
  2. Recognition of advertising
  3. Misleading advertising
  4. Harm and offence
  5. Children
  6. Privacy
  7. Political and controversial matters
  8. Distance selling
  9. Environmental claims
  10. Prohibited categories
  11. Medicines, medical devices, treatments and health
  12. Weight control and slimming
  13. Food, food supplements and associated health or nutrition claims
  14. Financial products, services and investments
  15. Faith, religions and equivalent systems of belief
  16. Charities
  17. Gambling
  18. Lotteries
  19. Alcohol
  20. Motoring
  21. Betting tipsters
  22. Premium-rate telephone services
  23. Telecommunications-based sexual entertainment services
  24. Homeworking schemes
  25. Instructional courses
  26. Services offering individual advice on consumer or personal problems
  27. Introduction and dating services
  28. Competitions
  29. Private investigation agencies
  30. Pornography
  31. Other categories that require central copy clearance
  32. Electronic cigarettes
  33. Scheduling

The Role of the ASA

Britain’s proud tradition of upholding integrity in television broadcasting isn’t merely by chance. Behind every advertisement that graces our screens, there’s a stringent guardian ensuring the content aligns with the nation’s ethical standards – enter the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). If there’s one thing the UK is particular about, it’s ensuring that television content, commercials included, is tailored for general viewership and devoid of misleading or offensive elements. The relief that comes with knowing our commercials have undergone such meticulous scrutiny is immeasurable.

When advertisers embark on the journey of creating commercials, navigating the rules and regulations might initially seem daunting. That’s where the ASA steps in, offering clarity and guidance. As the independent regulator overseeing advertisements across all UK media, the ASA’s responsibility goes beyond mere compliance checks. It’s about ensuring that advertisers broadcast messages that are not only accurate and respectful but also resonate genuinely with the audience. In an age where multiple platforms vie for attention, the TV remains a prime choice for many, making the role of the ASA all the more pivotal.

As the adage goes, with great power comes great responsibility. And when it comes to UK television advertising, the ASA dutifully upholds this mantle, ensuring that our beloved TV remains a trusted medium for brands, big or small, to convey their messages.

Everything You Need to Know About Clearcast

This non-governmental body, established in 2008 and backed by four of the UK’s leading broadcasters, is the driving force behind ensuring that what you see on your screens is both captivating and compliant.

Why does Clearcast matter, you ask? Consider this: every ad you see on major British broadcasters has been given the nod by Clearcast. That’s right; advertisers can’t just push their commercials on TV. First, they need that Clearcast stamp of approval. And earning that isn’t a mere formality. It’s a rigorous process where every advertisement is scrutinised according to the guidelines set by CAP and BCAP.

To put into perspective the scale of Clearcast’s operations, their team sifts through a staggering 65,000 ads annually. This isn’t just about ticking regulatory boxes. It’s about ensuring that every ad – whether it’s based on a first-draft script, a storyboard, a rough cut, or the final piece – aligns with the established advertising code.

But it’s not just about advertisers. For viewers, Clearcast is a vigilant guardian who’s always got the viewer’s best interests at heart. Misleading ads, dubious claims, and anything potentially offensive? Clearcast ensures they don’t see the light of day. So, while they might sound like a daunting organisation to advertisers, for the general public, they’re the heroes ensuring integrity on the airwaves.


How to Ensure TV Advertising Compliance in the UK


Crafting a great TV ad demands precision, authenticity, and adherence to a set framework. While the allure of television remains an irresistible platform for brands, it comes with its own set of rules and guidelines. Ensuring compliance is not merely a checkbox exercise; it’s the backbone of creating commercials that resonate deeply, yet ethically.


Understanding the groundwork

Before diving into the intricate details of compliance, it’s crucial to familiarise yourself with the regulatory landscape in the UK. You’ve got Clearcast, BCAP, and ASA, each playing a pivotal role in ensuring that your commercial sees the light of day on British television. Knowledge of their functions and responsibilities can save you time, money, and potential compliance headaches.


Getting it right from the start

When considering the short duration of most TV ads, it’s imperative that the concept and script are both engaging and compliant. Before even beginning production, make sure that your script doesn’t breach any codes set by BCAP. Consider submitting initial concepts or draft scripts to Clearcast. It’s like getting a litmus test on how likely your ad is to clear the final approval stage.


Visuals, claims, and testimonials

While a compelling narrative is paramount, ensuring your visuals, product claims, and any testimonials are transparent and accurate is non-negotiable. Are you showcasing a product’s efficacy? Ensure that it’s backed by concrete evidence. Utilising a testimonial? Make certain it’s a genuine reflection of the individual’s experience. Remember, misleading the audience isn’t just bad for compliance – it’s bad for business.


Target audience considerations

It’s not just about what your ad says, but also who it speaks to. Advertisements targeting children, for instance, have a distinct set of regulations to prevent undue influence. Likewise, if your product is age-restricted, ensuring it doesn’t appeal to or target underaged viewers is not only ethical but mandatory.



Once your commercial is shot and edited, the real compliance test begins. Submitting the final ad to Clearcast for review should be seen as your last checkpoint. While you might be eager to broadcast, this step is instrumental in guaranteeing that all your hard work doesn’t fall foul of any regulations.


Know your rights and responsibilities

Even with rigorous checks, disagreements or complaints can arise. It’s essential to understand how the ASA handles disputes and what steps you can take if your ad faces challenges. Being informed and prepared can make the difference between a minor hiccup and a significant setback.


Final Thoughts

The intricacies of TV advertising in the UK go beyond just crafting a compelling narrative. Each advertisement we see on our screens represents a careful balance of creativity, brand messaging, and strict adherence to BCAP’s guidelines. Ensuring compliance while maintaining the ad’s essence can be challenging, but it’s vital for the credibility of both the brand and the medium itself.

If you’re considering a foray into the world of UK television advertising, remember that guidance can make the journey smoother. Our TV advertising agency is adept at ensuring that adverts are both impactful and BCAP-compliant. So, why leave it to chance? Get in contact today to make sure your advertisement resonates the right way.

Read more: TV Advertising Guides

Author - Jamie Smith

Jamie Smith is the Co-Founder and Creative Director at Fall Off The Wall, a forward-thinking TV advertising & creative production agency in the UK. Jamie Smith is an experienced Creative Director with a demonstrated history of working in the DRTV marketing and advertising industry.