Outdoor Advertising Rules and Regulations: What you need to know

Abstract illustration cogs and arrows pointing way through outdoor advertising rules

Like many areas of public life, the outdoor advertising environment has its rule, regulations and prohibitions. This ranges from rules governing planning permission for displaying ads, to self-regulatory rules guiding the content of the ads themselves. This guide will give you a good grounding in the current outdoor advertising rules and regulations.

Planning permission

Before advertising outdoors, permission must be granted by the owner of the ad site in question, and by the local planning authority responsible for that area.

In some cases, what’s known as ‘deemed consent‘ rules mean that certain ads do not require permission from the local authority. These include fascia signs on shop fronts, “to let” signs, public notices, and so on. It’s worth familiarising yourself with the full list.

For ads that don’t meet deemed consent criteria, an application must be submitted requesting “express consent” to display your ad. A decision must then be made within eight weeks.

Applications to display advertisements can be made via paper forms available from the local authority, or via an online planning portal.

Three special outdoor advertising rules:

Local planning authorities operate three special rules regulating the placement of ads:

1. The Area of Special Control of Advertisements

These are areas defined by their scenic beauty, or their historical, cultural or architectural features. These areas justify stricter advertising control in a bid to conserve the “visual amenity” of the area.

2. Removal of “deemed consent”

If special circumstances apply, deemed consent can be removed by the local authority. This may be because it has been decided that the ad in question is spoiling the view or posing a safety hazard.

3. The discontinuance of a particular advertisement or the use of a particular ad site.

A “discontinuance notice” must be approved by the Secretary of State and can be appealed.

The five ‘standard conditions’

All advertisements must meet five conditions, namely that they be:

  1. Kept clean and tidy
  2. Be in a safe condition
  3. Have permission from the site owner in question
  4. Do not “obscure or hinder the interpretation” of official road, rail, waterway or aircraft signs, or endanger the use of these modes of transport
  5. Be removed carefully as required by the local planning authority

When is out-of-home advertising exempt from planning authority control?

There are 9 types out-of-home advertising that are excluded from planning authority control and include conditions such as:

  • Ads displayed inside a building as long as they are not illuminated or displayed within one meter of a window or external opening rendering it visible from outside

 

  • Ads in the form of tickets, markers, trade-names, branded goods or displayed on vending machines or petrol pumps (for example, the Coca Cola logo may feature on a drink vending machine).

 

  • Deemed consent is also given to purpose-designed advertising sites such as street kiosks, as long as the posters are no bigger than four-sheets.

 

  • Areas which have been used for ad displays for ten years or more are also permitted deemed consent as long as the size or scale of the advertising is not increased.

 

  • Flags with a company name or logo or that relate to a specific event of limited duration are permitted, but not flags carrying ads for specific products.

 

  • Ads in forecourts (such as petrol station forecourts) or displayed in a walled, fenced or otherwise enclosed area outside a shop or cafe have deemed consent, but not the area of pavement or highway outside a premise.

 

  • A business premises may carry an ad for goods or services offered within its premises.

 

Interestingly, advertisers are encouraged to advertise on hoardings surrounding construction sites for a period of no more than three years. So deemed consent is applicable in these cases. This is to provide a financial incentive to advertisers by conferring some environmental benefit to building sites.

The application carries a charge and you will also need to submit illustrative plans and drawings of the proposed advertisement. Contact the relevant local Planning Department for current fees.

The decision process

Outdoor advertising rule book and gavel

The decision process takes in to account “interests of amenity and public safety”.

Interests of amenity

Interests of amenity” is usually understood to relate to how appropriate an ad is to its surrounding environment. A large billboard next to a listed building, or obscuring an area of scenic beauty, is likely to be refused. The same billboard in a nearby industrial estate is likely to be approved.

‘Amenity’ relates to aural as well as visual concerns, so an ad that makes noise might be turned down if it’s next to a peaceful country church, for example. The same on the busy local high-street may well be accepted.

Interests of public safety

Just like “amenity”, “public safety” is a bit of a subjective term. This usually refers to whether or not an ad may be so distracting or confusing that it puts vehicles or pedestrians in jeopardy when travelling over land, water, or in the air.

Many planning authorities have drawn up advertisement control policy statements explaining what factors they deem relevant to their decision.

What happens after a decision has been made?

Consent for the display of an advertisement usually lasts for up to five years. The specific timeframe could be longer or shorter, so you should check how long the consent lasts for.

Unless you’ve been informed that the ad must be taken down after the consent expires, you do not need to do so; though the local authority may take out a ‘discontinuance action’ against it.

If you have not made an application and deemed consent does not apply, you won’t necessarily be prosecuted; you may just be asked to submit an application retrospectively. However, once an application has been officially declined you are liable to a £2500 fine.

Note: It is illegal to display an ad even if it has deemed consent without first getting permission from the owner of the site.

Displaying an ad without consent is considered to be a form of fly-posting and is liable to immediate prosecution or the removal or destruction of the ad. If a placard or poster identifiers its displayer, the Council must give two day’s written notice of its removal or destruction.

Clearly there is a high degree of complexity when gaining permission to advertise outdoors. It’s worth reading up on the government’s PDF guide and it’s a good idea to outsource planning applications to ad booking experts like SignKick.

Ad content – what regulations are there for outdoor advertising?

"know the rules" written in chalk on blackboard

In a nutshell, there are a couple of main rules that you need to comply with:

1. No alcohol, e-cigarettes, fast food, sweets and toys within 200 meters of schools

2. No political advertising on bus shelters

There may be additional regulations that are specific to local councils or landlords so its always wise to contact our support team to ensure that your outdoor advertising complies with any applicable regulations

In addition to these regulations, your advert must comply with the UK Advertising Codes that are written by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP).

What are the UK Advertising Codes?

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) is a self-regulatory body that writes the rule book for non-broadcast advertising in the UK.

Their philosophy is to ensure that all ads are “legal, decent, honest and truthful and consumer confidence is maintained.”

These are self-imposed rules agreed upon by the marketing community to ensure the lasting reputation of the industry, and to avoid the need for legislation and costly, time consuming legal battles.

The CAP Code is administered by the independent Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) which ensures that self-regulation serves the pubic interest.

The community can impose sanctions such as withdrawing ad sites and enforcing pre-screening of all ads if an advertiser doesn’t abide by the CAP Code. In some cases they can be referred to Trading Standards.

Pretty much all forms of print, electronic, video, DVD and Blu-Ray ads are covered by the category non-broadcast including text messages. See the Code for a full list.

Broadly, advertising falls foul of regulatory codes if it is one of the following:

  • Misleading
  • Harmful
  • Offensive

CAP regulations are wide-ranging and extensive, and cover areas such as:

  • The protection of children
  • Privacy
  • Political adverts
  • Database practice
  • Environmental claims
  • Medicines, health products, food supplements and slimming products
  • Gambling and lotteries
  • The promotion of smoking
  • The selling of e-cigarettes
  • Regulation of financial products
  • Alcohol sales practices

Check out the full list on the CAP website.

All claims made in an ad have to be substantiated within the ad itself, hence the references that often appear in small print.

Around 20,000 ads are scrutinised each year following complaints.

Ads are not pre-screened (there are over 30 million press advertisements and 100 million items of direct marketing published each year), but advice and guidance is available via the CAP advice and training service.

Despite this, consumers have the right to complain about misleading, harmful or offensive ads, and it can take just one complaint to prompt action from the ASA.

Complaints can also be made by rival advertisers; however they need to prove they have taken steps to resolve any disputes prior to involving the ASA who will investigate a maximum of three complaints raised against any competitor.

In some cases, there may be a good reason why it was not possible to correspond with an advertiser, or where there is a potentially serous breach of the Code and complaints can go ahead without consultation.

Sanctions

Most advertisers comply with ASA ruling but where they don’t, a range of sanctions are available which are administered from within the advertising community. Sanctions include:

  • Ad alerts issued to CAP members and the media advising the withholding of services.

 

  • Withdrawal of trading privileges. For example, Royal Mail can withhold its bulk mail discount, raising marketing costs to prohibitive levels.

 

  • Pre-vetting: For up to two years after sanctions, the advertiser will have to submit all their ads for pre-vetting.

 

  • Online sanctions. These can include requests that search engines withdraw paid-for ads that link to your websites, and the featuring of the advertiser’s name on the ASA sanctions list on their site. An AdWords campaign may even be launched warning consumers about your products and services.

The world of outdoor advertising rules and regulations is a complex one, though as a general rule of thumb, the more conscientious you are as an advertiser, the less likely it will be that you will get into trouble.

Read up on the links provided in this guide, or get in touch with us for further advice. We can work with you on the design and execution of your project to ensure that your campaign adheres to UK outdoor advertising rules and regulations.

Happy advertising!