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Pre-Approval of Advertisements


We have received requests for information on pre-approval systems for advertisements – particularly therapeutic advertisements. We asked our FAR colleague Jeremy Irwin to explain the system he introduced in New Zealand when he was the Executive Director of the Association of New Zealand Advertisers (ANZA). He writes as follows:

Pre-approval of therapeutic advertising of certain products was set up in the 1997 to provide advertisers, advertising agencies, and media with a qualified assurance that their advertising complied with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) codes and the law.

The Medicines Act provides the legal framework. It has strict requirements relating to the quality and promotion of therapeutic products. Even cosmetics, dietary supplements and food can come within the ambit of the Act if therapeutic claims are made. The Act provides that not only can advertisers by prosecuted for misleading claims but also the media that publish or broadcast the advertisements.

Newspapers, television, magazines and radio have a large number of advertisements for therapeutic products and understandably do not have the technical expertise to determine whether complex therapeutic claims comply with the strict requirements of the ASA Codes and Medicines Act. They along with others in the advertising industry asked ANZA to establish a self-regulatory pre-approval system. The essential requirements were that it was quick, efficient and competent. We established the Therapeutic Advertising Pre-vetting Service (TAPS).

TAPS is a voluntary user pays service. ANZA contracts independent adjudicators to check advertising and ultimately approve each advertisement. There were initially two very skilled adjudicators – one was a former CEO of a major pharmaceutical company and the other was a former senior official at the Ministry of Health. A third adjudicator with similar experience has since been added to the team.

ANZA plays no part in the adjudication process and is only involved in the administration of the system. All industry parties acknowledge the adjudicator’s decision on compliance, or non-compliance, of an advertisement and the media will not accept an advertisement unless it receives the TAPS approval. However the Advertising Standards Complaints Board when hearing a complaint against a pre-approved advertisement judges it on the merits of the complaint and has on a few occasions upheld the complaint despite TAPS approval.

One interesting feature is that the adjudicators are in regular contact with the Ministry of Health on an informal basis. The Ministry has full confidence in the system and fully supports it.

TAPS is a fully independent system and is not influenced by any sector of the industry in its adjudications. The adjudicators do consult with the ASA for clarification of advertising codes and complaints, and decisions for precedents when assessing compliance of advertisements.  They also consult with the Ministry of Health regarding technical aspects and legal interpretations.

Advertisers and agencies have derived considerable value from TAPs and often use the adjudicators to provide advice on advertising concepts prior to production.

I would be pleased to supply further information on the working detail of the system.

Jeremy Irwin

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