Generally, advertisements try to get us to buy something. In doing so, adverts have to be truthful and not mislead, deceive or imply something that is not the case.

Advertising Standards Authority

Various bodies have responsibility for the content or presentation of advertising to make sure that standards are maintained and action is taken to stop abuses. Sometimes inaccurate or offensive adverts do slip through and it is up to the public to bring these to the attention of the authorities.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) covers advertisements in newspapers, magazines, on TV or radio, outdoor posters, direct mail leaflets and brochures, cinema advertisements, advertisements on the internet, including banner and pop-up ads, and commercial emails and promotional marketing of any kind.

The ASA enforces advertising codes written by the Committee of Advertising Practice. If an advert is found to break one of the Codes, the advertiser is asked to withdraw or change it. The ASA publishes its rulings every Wednesday on their website:

Some advertisements fall outside of the ASA’s remit.

Credit advertising

The ASA has powers to investigate financial advertising on TV and radio, but complaints about product-related claims in non-broadcast ads for credit products, e.g. credit cards, store cards, personal loans and secured loans should be made to Consumerline on 0300 123 6262.

Financial advertising

Whilst the ASA has powers to investigate financial advertising on TV and radio; complaints about product-related claims in non-broadcast advertisements for mortgages, general insurance, investments, pensions, cash savings and bank accounts are dealt with by the Financial Conduct Authority.

Discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, age or disability

For advice on suspected discrimination in advertisements, contact the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.

For further information, you can visit 

How to Complain to the Advertising Standards Agency

If you think an advertisement is misleading, harmful or offensive, you should write to the ASA, complete their online complaints form, telephone their complaints team. Where possible send a copy of, or a link to the ad, and say where and when you saw it.

If your complaint is upheld, the ASA can ensure that the advertisement is withdrawn or changed.

Social media advertising

The most prominent social media platforms are currently Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, all of which now operate as an advertising space and marketplace.  Adverts that appear on your social media accounts are tailored towards you.

What the law says

You have the same consumer rights regarding the quality of goods as you do if you are buying from a web retailer.  See Shopping from home.

You can also use privacy settings in each platform so your information is not public for targeted sellers and scammers to identify you.

If you wish to complain to the social media provider, each provider has its own code of practice for sellers using their service.

How to complain

In the first instance, if you have bought through Facebook using the seller’s page, you should go to your ‘Settings’ page. Here you will find a ‘Payments’ column where you can request refunds, exchanges or returns.

As most other social media link to external seller’s websites, you will need to contact the retailer. If you have paid with Paypal, you can ask Paypal to investigate on your behalf.  If you have paid by credit or debit card you may be able to claim your money back from the card issuer – see The Consumer Council’s Safer Ways to Pay leaflet 

If you are unable to resolve the issue, contact Consumerline on 0300 123 6262.