The ASA tells brands to make small print more explicit

Clarity for consumers: new standards announced

Advertising regulators have taken action to prevent TV ads misleading consumers by changing the standards expected of on-screen text, or small print.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) have amended the guidelines following research which found viewers can struggle to read and comprehend text in TV ads that contain important qualifying terms and conditions to an offer.

The watchdogs were concerned that if consumers were unable to view qualifying information, they would get misled on the terms of a deal, leading to confusion or disappointment when the offer isn't what they originally understood.

In the research, the ASA carried out a review of on-screen text in TV ads to uncover how viewers use superimposed text in ads, their legibility and whether they are comprehensible.

The ASA put out a public call for evidence, before commissioning qualitative research with TV viewers across the UK, which was conducted by Define. 138 people were interviewed in their own homes for the report.

In the research, ASA found the majority of respondents found it difficult to read on-screen text, and that it was more prevalent among older viewers.

In the report, respondents found a Fiat Chrysler ad's small print illegible to read, as the writing was "too small and 'squashed/'narrow' in appearance. Some additionally found the text overwhelming."

Nearly all respondents found an ad from William Hill Casino very difficult to read. The ad featured white-coloured supers shown against a moving background. Viewers also "tended to have difficulty understanding the language and gambling jargon employed in these super."

To address the concerns that were raised in the report, BCAP has published new standards on the presentation of on-screen text that TV advertisers will be expected to abide by.

From now on brands must:

• Sufficiently emphasising particularly significant qualifying information

• Adopting a stricter approach to ensuring an adequate contrast between the on-screen text and background

• Taking greater care over the choice of typeface to avoid the use of stretched or elongated text

• Allowing viewers sufficient time to read on-screen text

The new standards came into effect on March 1, 2019.

Guy Parker, chief executive of the advertising standards authority, said: “Our research has told us that TV viewers can be misled when they struggle to read on-screen text that contains important information. It’s vital that any qualifications are presented clearly and I welcome BCAP’s tough new standards to ensure that happens.”

Shahriar Coupal, director of the broadcast committee of advertising practice, said: “As an evidence-based regulator, we welcome the ASA’s research. We’ve acted promptly to update our guidance and provide greater clarity on the acceptable presentation of on-screen text in ads, benefitting advertisers and viewers alike.”

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