ASA updates ad guidelines for UK universities following influx of misleading claims

The majority of complaints that were upheld about the universities pertained to misleading or unsubstantiated claims

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and its regulatory arm the Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP) have updated advertising guidelines for UK universities following a slew of misleading claims a number of high-profile institutions.

No less than six universities, including Strathclyde University, Falmouth University, Teesside University, the University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the University of West London, have been issued with bans in the latest round of ASA rulings.

The majority of complaints that were upheld about the universities pertained to misleading or unsubstantiated claims that they were "number one" for certain degree subjects.

For example, Teessidie University was wrapped for stating it was a "top university in England for long-term graduate prospects," which the ASA argued was likely to be understood by potential students as an objective fact but that there was a lack of evidence to support the claim. Strathclyde, meanwhile, misleadingly implied that the Research Excellence Framework (REF) had ranked it as a the "number one physics department" in the UK, and the University of Leicester made an exaggerated statement.

As such, to address the increasing concerns about university advertising, CAP will be publishing new guidance and advice online to help universities follow the rules better.

At the time of writing the ASA had yet to publish the updated guidelines, but The Drum understands that CAP plans to bring clarity to proceedings by educating universities and providing tips and advice around what this batch of rulings mean, what terminology they should be avoiding and the evidence the ASA would expect to see in order to back up a claim.

The issue is the latest to come under close inspection from the watchdog this year. Just a few months ago it announced that it would unveil fresh guidance around gender stereotyping in ads by the start of 2018, while chief executive Guy Parker has said that the regulation around the influencer marketing sector is something else his team is carefully researching.

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Rebecca Stewart

Rebecca Stewart is a reporter at The Drum. Based in London, she writes news, analysis and features around brand marketing and digital innovation. She has interviewed key figures from the likes of Airbnb, Amnesty International, Unilever, Facebook and Spotify, as well as covering international events like Ad Week Europe, Dmexco and Ciclope.

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