Although it doesn’t tend to be something most people think of, advertisements in the UK go through a rather strict vetting process before they’re broadcasted on the airwaves. As a country, Britain has always been a little bit more cautious about what’s shown on TV. After all, if you’re going to have commercials on the show you’re watching, it’s not unreasonable to expect that they’ll be appropriate for general audiences and free from any potentially offensive content. It’s good to know that adverts are regulated in this way – it means we can watch our favourite shows without too much worry.
But, the clearance process can be a little tricky to navigate. If you’re making a video ad for the UK, it’s important that the commercial you create is appropriate for being viewed by a general audience. Fortunately, with an experienced TV advertising agency, this process can be a breeze. Regardless, let’s go through what advertisers need to do in order to gain TV ad clearance.
Since the early 1950s, television adverts and commercial breaks have been carefully regulated in the UK. This practice has resulted in a long list of dos and don’ts for those who are creating ads for the British public that are constantly updated.
Television clearance is simply the process of making sure that, when an ad is approved for broadcast, it doesn’t breach any broadcasting rules or regulations. This involves ensuring that the ad complies with the UK Advertising Codes, as determined by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) – its broadcast equivalent.
The general rule of thumb is this – all advertising looking to be broadcasted in the UK should not mislead, cause harm or offend. This is applied to each and every ad, no matter what the content is. This means that even if your idea is silly or controversial, it doesn’t mean that you can get away with it. In fact, you might make the TV Clearance process a lot more difficult if you try something like this.
Those who are keen on utilising the unique power of television advertising should take great care in getting their commercials approved. In the UK, advertisers rely on Clearcast to get them through the TV ad clearance process.
Clearcast is a non-governmental organisation established in 2008 and owned by four of the UK’s top broadcasters. It is tasked to pre-approve nearly all ads broadcasted across British television – mainly the broadcasters who own the organisation – and is the main service used by these broadcasters.
An advertiser cannot transmit an ad that has not had Clearcast approval. The organisation goes through a stringent process to pre-approve all ads that wish to be broadcast, according to the rules set by the CAP and BCAP. According to Clearcast themselves, its teams watch over 65,000 ads per year!
The team reviews submissions provided by advertisers against the aforementioned Advertising Code. Advertisers can submit documents such as first-draft scripts, storyboards, rough edits and the final ad itself to Clearcast in order to go through the TV ad clearance process.
When it comes to misleading advertising, underhanded business practices and objectionable advertising material, the public can always count on Clearcast to have their back. They’re on your side, so interacting with them shouldn’t be too terrible.
Source: CG Professional
Now, the TV ad clearance process is pretty strict and straightforward, but there are a couple of different organisations that offer more than just that. One such organisation is the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which administers the Codes set out by the BCAP and CAP.
The ASA is an independent regulator for all forms of advertising in the UK – including television and digital. It is in charge of applying the Codes set by the CAP and conducts routine reviews. If an ad goes through the TV ad clearance process, it must adhere to the rules set by the ASA as well.
Although there are separate codes for broadcast and non-broadcast advertisements, every one of them is expected to be “legal, decent, honest and truthful” – according to the ASA. This means that the ASA is on the lookout for advertising that may be in breach of the Codes and will hold adverts to account.
The ASA is the ultimate authority in advertising. It has the power to remove any advert that they deem to have broken the rules stated in the Code – even the TV ads that have been cleared by Clearcast.
Source: Paragon Pictures
Before getting started on creating your ad, though, you need to be aware of what the rules are. This way, you’ll know what to keep an eye out for and how to avoid any problems with Clearcast or the ASA.
The UK Code of Broadcast Advertising as set out by BCAP has 33 sections relating to the dos and don’ts of television advertising in the UK. The ASA has a website dedicated to breaking down the BCAP Code. Here’s a quick run-down of those sections so you have a better understanding of the BCAP Code and why it’s important for television.
This section basically describes the responsibilities of broadcasters to ensure that advertisements transmitted by them comply with the Code. It determines that the ultimate responsibility of compliance issues lay at the hands of the broadcaster and not the ASA.
Before airing, broadcasters must get approval for all commercials and schedule them appropriately and in accordance with BCAP’s guidelines. Compliance with appropriate scheduling warnings from Clearcast is strongly recommended by BCAP, but is not a guarantee of compliance with the BCAP Code. This reaffirms that even if an advertisement has been cleared by Clearcast, the ultimate authority is still in the hands of the ASA.
In order to prevent consumers from perceiving advertisements as genuine content, the guidelines in this section define the minimum amount of time between commercials and actual content and the maximum amount. This is important to place an obvious distinction between advertising and editorial content.
Unless what is being broadcasted is a programme promotion, the commercial being aired needs to ensure that the audience is able to recognise that what they are watching is an advertisement. So advertisers that seek to use the news bulletin format or associate the ad with a programme need to tread carefully.
The ASA takes misleading advertising very seriously. This section clearly defines what a “misleading” advertisement is and the many ways that an ad could be seen as misleading. It includes, but is not limited to, exaggerations, intentional omission, hidden costs and fees, and lack of evidence.
The overall impact of advertisements, not just their claims, will be considered by the ASA. The Commission will make its decision based on the impact on consumers, not the advertiser’s objective. Documentary evidence must be held by broadcasters to prove claims that the audience is likely to perceive as objective and that can be substantiated objectively.
This section describes the rules which ensure that commercials neither cause harm nor widespread offence. It states that advertisements have the responsibility to consider the generally accepted societal standards when seeking to minimise the risk of causing harm or offence. TV ads also should not exploit the trust children place onto their parents, legal guardians or teachers.
There are very strict guidelines when it comes to advertisements aimed at children. The BCAP Code explicitly states that advertisements that could affect a child’s physical, mental or moral well-being are absolutely prohibited. Extra care must be taken into consideration when scheduling TV ads in order to avoid children viewing commercials that are unsuitable for them.
An advertisement can’t encourage or normalise behaviour that’s potentially harmful to children, whether explicitly or implicitly. They also must not imply or overtly undermine established safety guidelines. Advertising must not encourage, promote, or showcase children going out alone or with strangers in any way whatsoever.
The Privacy section of the BCAP Code was drawn up on the principle that the unjustified invasions of privacy of living individuals must be avoided. This means that any living person should not be featured, caricatured or referred to within a commercial without explicit consent. There also must not be any implication that those persons endorse the product being advertised, especially if they do not.
Any form of political advertising has been outright banned since 2003, thanks to the Communications Act. This includes anything related to party politics, as well as influencing legislation, referendums or executive actions.
Advertisements that seek to influence public opinion on any controversial matters are also expressly forbidden under the BCAP Code. These include those relating to industrial disputes such as strikes or protests.
This section deals with the rules relating to commercials that allow audiences to make a purchase without the need for face-to-face interaction with the advertiser. Cancellations and refunds are also included in this rule, and it covers various industries such as banking, pensions, residential rental agreements, gambling and travel.
Although the BCAP removed this rule in 2015, it still recommends that broadcasters are aware of this section. If this worries you, speak to your qualified TV advertising agency to ensure that your ad campaign doesn’t break any rules.
The BCAP has rather strict rules in regard to environmental claims in broadcast advertising. While “going green” has become a big trend in recent years, companies must be able to substantiate their claims with hard evidence before transmitting their advertisement. The “sin of omission” applies here, too.
In essence, don’t attempt to make any environmental claims if there aren’t any. Even if the product has never effected the environment, advertisers are not allowed to imply that the product has been improved in order to better protect the environment.
This section clarifies every category type that is forbidden to be advertised. Aside from political issues and commercials directed at children, there are a number of other categories with their own sets of rules which will be outlined in future sections.
In this section, however, specifically mentions the prohibition to advertise tobacco-based products, any device that claims to mask the effects of alcohol, potentially highly-addictive gambling, violent weaponry including fake ones, prostitution or other sexual services, pyramid schemes, products and services intended to rehabilitate alcoholics or drug addicts, and so on. This list is non-extensive, so take good care to read and understand whether you are allowed to advertise your product or service.
This part of the BCAP code refers to regulations regarding pharmaceuticals, herbal and homoeopathic products, and the use of health professionals are discussed. Strict evidence standards are required for therapeutic claims. These types of products need to be subject to an increased level of scrutiny.
In order to help with the process, Clearcast hires a panel of health and medical consultants to assist in inspecting these types of products before providing clearance. Clear, scientific evidence is necessary here, and these types of product commercials should not discourage seeking potentially life-saving treatment for any condition.
Products mentioned in this section include anything relating to weight control, slimming foodstuffs, and weight loss aids such as exercise, diets, clinics or medication. This is another strictly regulated aspect of the BCAP Code as it relates to the overall safety of the television viewing audience and is put under a high level of scrutiny.
Those seeking to advertise their weight control or slimming products and services must be prepared to substantiate their claims with hard evidence. These ads must also discourage excessive or unhealthy use of their product and should not be addressed to those under the age of 18
Due to public health policies, advertisements seeking to promote any type of foodstuff must keep this section in mind. There is a reasonable expectation that commercial product advertising will not play the same role as education and public information in encouraging a healthy, well-rounded diet.
However, commercial product advertising should not sabotage public health efforts to improve the diets of the nation as a whole by misleading or confusing consumers or by setting a poor example, especially for children. They should also avoid encouraging damaging oral practices or overeating.
All advertising are required to adhere to the law, which is the focus of the rules outlined in this section. Short-form media such as television and radio commercials aren’t ideally suited to conveying a lot of detail, but they can be useful in getting the word out about a product or service.
Because of this, they should not be used to promote any financial products or services that are not authorised in the UK and governed by the Financial Services and Markets Act of 2000, such as high-risk or specialised investments.
The goal of this section of the BCAP Code is to find a middle ground between the right to free expression and the need to protect consumers from potentially harmful advertising. Any advertisement seeking to promote religious beliefs must tread carefully so that they don’t break any of the rules set out by the BCAP.
These include any form of advertising by or on behalf of organisations whose primary mission is the promotion of a particular religious or spiritual belief system or of a belief system that can be viewed as equivalent to the recognition of a deity (including the belief that there is no such thing as a deity). Television broadcasters must also not promote occult or psychic practices unless it is clearly labelled as entertainment.
The guidelines are in place so that people’s generosity isn’t abused. Advertisements for charities or featuring charities should handle sensitive topics with caution and moderation. When an advertisement’s goals are altruistic, viewers are more likely to overlook potentially upsetting treatments. Nonetheless, it’s important to exercise caution when broadcasting an ad for a charity, especially if targeting children.
It should be noted that only charities that are registered with the relevant UK authorities are allowed to advertise on television. Any attempt at misleading the audience in order to gain donations is strictly prohibited.
Social responsibility guidelines for gambling and spread betting are discussed here. The rules aim to shield minors and the vulnerable from harmful content and discriminatory targeting. Any advertisement relating to unlicensed gambling operators will be put under scrutiny by the Gambling Commission.
Non-gambling operators who are working to combat problem gambling through responsible advertising are not prohibited from doing so under the guidelines. Gaming businesses must follow the regulations when promoting responsible gambling and sharing information about it.
This section also applies to all lotteries, including The National Lottery and any lottery licensed by the Gambling Commission or locally registered. The purpose of these guidelines is to prevent any potential harm or exploitation of minors, those under the age of 18, or the vulnerable from coming into contact with marketing messages for lotteries.
These types of advertisements have the responsibility to not encourage any unhealthy or socially irresponsible gambling behaviours. Lotteries should not be promoted in any way that suggests that winning will solve a person’s financial, emotional, or professional difficulties.
The BCAP has strict rules about the promotion of alcoholic beverages to those under the legal drinking age – which is 18 in the UK. Any drink that has an alcoholic content of more than 0.5% is considered an alcoholic drink.
These advertisements should not condone binge or irresponsible drinking behaviours. They should also not imply that drinking will enhance someone’s social status or increase their confidence, nor suggest that drinking alcohol is a method of achieving social success.
Anything that advertises or promotes motor vehicles are subject to this section of the BCAP Code. The main principle of this section is to avoid the contribution to a reckless driving culture, especially towards younger persons.
Advertisements for automobiles are restricted from highlighting performance metrics such as horsepower and acceleration unless they are presented in the context of obvious safety features. No enthusiasm, hostility, or competitiveness should be inferred from any such references.
A “tipster” is a third party that is perceived to be more knowledgeable about gambling than those who have set the initial odds, such as bookies. In a similar fashion to the Gambling section, the BCAP has strict guidelines on advertising betting tipster services.
In a nutshell, they must explicitly not mislead the audience and should not be targeting those under the legal betting age of 18. These types of ads should also prove any claims made within the commercial, especially if relating to a tipster’s previous successes, and should also not promise a profit guarantee.
Calls to premium-rate telephone numbers, which provide access to premium services such as information and entertainment, are charged at a higher rate than calls to standard telephone numbers. Any advertisement that seeks to promote these services must make the price and nature of the service explicitly clear.
This section of the BCAP Code highlights the need to include clear pricing information. Those that involve calls of five minutes and beyond must inform the commercial’s audience that they may be subject to longer call experiences.
While these types of ads are not banned outright, there is a regulation on when commercials for these services can be broadcasted. These relate to services of a sexual character that are made available to consumers through a direct-response mechanism and supplied over electronic communication networks are known as telecommunications-based sexual entertainment services and can take the form of voice, text, picture, or video.
In general, these types of services cannot be advertised before 9 PM or after 5.30 AM, with the exception of Digital Terrestrial Television, in which case they cannot be transmitted before 12 AM.
Schemes that allow workers to do their tasks from the comfort of their own homes are known as “homeworking schemes.” Anyone, whether employed or self-employed, is welcome to join. These include freelancing services, and any advertisement promoting these services are subject to the BCAP Code.
The main idea of this section is to ensure that the audience is neither misled nor purposely misinformed of the intentions of the homeworking scheme. These advertisements must not take advantage of the vulnerable or naive state of persons looking for jobs.
There are restrictions on who is allowed to promote their educational or instructional course on television and, of course, are subject to their own sets of rules outlined by the BCAP. In general, these advertisements must not mislead or exaggerate any results after taking the course.
Any type of individualised service is subject to close scrutiny under the BCAP Code. Personal or consumer advice services may only be advertised if the advertiser can provide the broadcaster with evidence of appropriate credentials.
This could include membership in an organisation with a complaints process and disciplinary procedures, certification that they meet minimum standards for training and education, or registration that they have met those standards.
Advertisements by services such as Bumble, Tinder and eHarmony are subject to specific rules in order to advertise on television. These services are also subject to Sections 1, 4, 10 and 22 of the BCAP Code.
Any claims made within the ads need to be backed up by evidence, and they should not exploit feelings of loneliness that may be faced by audience members. Ads for such services should also include explicit safety information for their target demographic.
Any advert promoting competitions must not mislead the audience. They should take extra care that they are conducted fairly and any rules or prizes on offer must be clearly stated within the advertisement.
Private investigators must be accredited in the UK. Therefore, those who wish to advertise their services on broadcast television must provide substantial evidence of their credentials.
There are very strict rules regarding the broadcast of pornography-related materials in the UK, even more so within advertising. The BCAP Code states that anything deemed R-18, including pornographic characters, is strictly prohibited to be advertised on non-adult entertainment channels.
This applies to advertisements for adult products and services, such as those seen in adult bookstores, stripograms, and other 18+ publications. Advertisements seeking to promote these products or services must receive central copy clearance from the relevant broadcasting body.
While tobacco products are forbidden to be advertised, e-cigarettes are not but are still subject to strict rules under the BCAP Code. In general, these types of advertisements must clearly state that it is promoting an e-cigarette, be socially responsible and should not target those under the age of 18.
Schedule restrictions, such as those placed on items because of their intended audience’s age, are discussed here. All types of ads, including those that use text or interactive features, are subject to the same separation and placement guidelines.
Particular care should be taken when advertising products during day parts that tend to feature children as the majority audience. Since a news item, especially one of a tragic nature, can completely change the context in which an advertisement having an apparent connection to it could be perceived by viewers or listeners, extra care must be taken when inserting or surrounding news or current affairs programmes with advertisements.
Source: Tom Vaughan-Mountford
This might seem like a lot of rules to follow, but the more you know about it, the better. But regardless of whether you have a great TV advertising idea, these rules and regulations still apply. If you’re thinking of advertising in the UK, here are a few things to bear in mind.
This is probably the most important part of the TV ad clearance process. You won’t get anywhere without knowing the BCAP Code inside and out, so devote as much time as you can to studying it. You’ll be able to navigate the TV ad clearance process with a lot more ease if you get yourself familiar with it.
The superscript, or simply “super”, is the fine print that overlays an advertisement. It typically features additional information relating to a product or service and is extremely important for legal and regulatory purposes. The UK had strict rules regarding supers and has basic requirements for font type, font size, and even the amount of time the super needs to be on screen.
It’s better to get the TV ad clearance process underway as soon as possible. This way, you’ll be able to avoid any major delays and problems in the TV ad clearance process. Submit the relevant documents to Clearcast as early as possible – the earlier, the better. Always remember that for an ad to be broadcasted in the UK, it must be honest and clear and should not seek to cause offence or harm to the audience.
Clearcast recommends that advertisers budget about 2 to 3 weeks for the entire clearance process. So keep this in mind the next time you’d like to make a great TV ad for your campaign!
Although it may seem like a tedious process, the TV ad clearance process in the UK is highly important to ensure that your advertising campaign runs as smoothly as possible. Take time and care to study the rules set out by the CAP and BCAP, and definitely make sure that you have a reputable TV advertising agency to help you through the process or better still own the process entirely as they should do this day in, day out!
Do you want to know more about how we can help with your TV advertising? If so, give us a call on 01582 881144 or drop us a line at email@example.com. We’d love to chat.