Everything you need to know about getting through ad clearance

Time to read: 6 min

Sep 30 2020

Everything you need to know about getting through ad clearance

Sometimes the clearance process can feel a little confusing. We often find that lots of time and energy is devoted to the creative side of producing a quality TVC (television commercial) but ad clearance is a big old rush. It can be a huge stress for your media buyer, your production company and for you too.

But it doesn’t have to be. Once you’ve decided that TV is the platform for you, it’s essential you allow yourself enough time to also get through the clearance process. A good production schedule can make this easy. So why do you need ad clearance and how can you make it stress-free?

Here’s our guide through the process with a few hints on how to make it plain sailing.

What is Clearcast?

You may have heard of Clearcast, but what do they do? Clearcast is a non-governmental organisation which pre-approves most UK television advertising on behalf of the UK’s major broadcasters. They follow the guidance of The Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) and Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) who write the UK Advertising Codes. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) administer these codes and regulates the UK advertising industry.

CopyCentral is the online submissions and clearance system, the communications platform between Clearcast and agencies/advertisers submitting ads for approval. They require various info, such as details of your products and services, terms and conditions and a full cast list. This is to make sure that the ad isn’t scheduled during a programme that features any of the same actors (and therefore associates that programme with your brand). Info on the music allows the composer to claim PRS royalties. A unique Clock Number (the code associated with your TVC) is also required. In doing so, your ad can be tracked efficiently.

Clearcast is ultimately the defender of the public when it comes to false claims, sneaky sales and offensive content. They’re the good guys, so dealing with them doesn’t have to be a nightmare.

Step 1: Have your script approved before the shoot

This is sometimes a rare beast. Ideally your script will have been given the thumbs up by Clearcast before the cameras start rolling, and certainly before the edit. In reality, we’re often tweaking the script alongside our clients right up to the day before filming. When it comes to the visual content, this is totally fine. But try to settle on your messaging well in advance in case it trips you up and slows you down. Sales messages, offers and bold claims (‘the ONLY place in the UK to see unicorns’) are particularly tricky. You will need to substantiate every claim in your ad with a document to prove it’s true. This can be as simple as a brochure or insert to demonstrate that you do indeed exhibit unicorns.

Medical claims can be trickier as you will need endorsement from a certified medical professional or institution. If you have a sales message or offer you will need to fill out a Retail Substantiation Form with relevant pricing, offer end dates and T&Cs. It sounds daunting, but if you allow yourself a good 10 days in advance of filming there won’t be any surprises in the edit.

Step 2: Consider the small print

A ‘super’ is text superimposed onto an ad to provide additional information or clarification for legal or regulatory purposes. Back in the day the small print in an ad was the visual equivalent of that SUPER fast bit of voiceover at the end of a radio ad. You know it’s there, but no one actually expects you to digest it.

Recently, ASA research led to a change in the law which came into effect in March. Supers now need to be easier to read so viewers know the wool isn’t being pulled over their eyes. The required text height is now bigger, strokes are advised and certain thin fonts will not be deemed legible. They also need to adhere to a minimum ‘text hold time’ which is calculated per word. Be mindful: the more clarification needed, the greater risk of having your lovely shots filled with text. Consider this when filming against very light or busy backgrounds.

Step 3: Allocate plenty of time for broadcast clearance

Post-production is where we often see a carefully planned schedule get squeezed, as it’s tempting to add a few more days for sign-off. Beware of this, as this will eat into the time your TVC submission needs to be ‘final actioned’. Allow 10 days (providing the script has already been approved) for submission and approval. This factors in any issues that may arise, allowing for changes to be made if supers are too small or too brief. At busy times of year, such as early Summer and pre-Christmas, Clearcast approval can take longer. Remember, in this final submission stage, it’s essential to make sure you are 100% happy with the content of the ad. Any changes to the copy after approval (such as contact info or offer end dates) will need to go back through the clearance process all over again with a new clock number.

Step 4: Make sure everything’s Peachy

Once the copy of your TVC has been approved by Clearcast, there’s one more stage before it’s ready for broadcast. The final file needs to be uploaded to a delivery platform for quality checks. This ensures your ad looks and sounds great on your audience’s TV, without burning out the screen with a crazy colour grade or blowing the speakers with a deafening sound mix. We use Peach (formerly IMD) for delivery where files are usually processed and delivered to channels within 24 hours. However, consider that most media buyers require the final clock number 5 working days before broadcast. Once your files are up on Peach and delivered to your channels it’s entirely up to you use them. You’re then free to air your ad again and again, as long as there’s no supers that specify an end date.

The new Clearcast Library

New changes to the ad clearance process on Clearcast will make the bring improvements to the clearance process. Some of these will be:

  • Automation enhancements to existing technical checks, with immediate results
  • Dashboards to see all ads and their status in one place
  • Less admin because the file you normally use for delivery can be used for clearance
  • A reduction of data entry across systems
  • Improved supply chain

In conclusion, you can avoid lots of confusion if you’ve got a good production schedule in place. Allow a good 15 working days for clearance before your broadcast date. Ultimately, brand awareness ads are much, much easier to get through clearance than a flashy sale. Your audience just has a few seconds to take in your message, and no one wants to read the small print. Read more about Increased viewers + decreased prices: why now is the time to advertise on TV for more information about broadcasting your ad.

James Sampson

Creative Director, Skylark Media. James specialises in emotional storytelling having spent his career working on dramas including Broadchurch, Doctor Who and Sky's Stella. At Skylark, he's directed TV ads for Longleat, My Family Vets and Nisbets.