Outdoor Advertising Law in the UK

outdoor advertising law in the UK
outdoor advertising law in the UK

Being one of the most developed countries in the world, the UK regulation system is therefore complex and sophisticated. Advertising law is no exception. Outdoor advertising law in the UK is complicated, both in terms of their requirements and the laws surrounding them. Therefore, it is essential to have a thorough understanding of what guidelines out of home media must follow when used as part of a marketing campaign. 

We understand that grasping the technical jargon of the law is not an easy task. Therefore, below we have compiled for you the main ideas of the UK’s advertising law guidance from official legal resource.

What is outdoor advertising?

what is outdoor advertising?

Out-of-home media (OOHM) refers to any type of advertisement that can be found outside your home. This can be delivered in a variety of ways, including billboards, signs, and vehicles. OOHM is especially useful if the company wishes to reach a large number of people. As you can see, there are millions of advertising billboards promoting their products and services in thousands of locations around the world.

Some of the world’s largest advertisers, such as Apple, Nike, and Coca-Cola, use out-of-home media as “playgrounds” to skillfully remarket their brands.

Types of outdoor advertising

1. Billboard advertising

billboard advertising

One of the most recognizable mediums associated with OOHM is billboard advertising. Large posters became popular in the early nineteenth century and have remained one of the most popular forms of outdoor advertising ever since.

While the materials used to build and print these advertisements have changed and evolved, the basic concept of a large printed advertisement prominently displayed in the public eye remains a cornerstone of the OOHM marketplace.

Billboards provide marketers and advertisers with a great deal of flexibility in their campaigns because they come in a variety of sizes and locations. Billboards are frequently placed along roadsides (on bridges or in independent stands) and near high-traffic areas, such as shopping malls, stadiums, and city centers.

Types of billboards

Billboards come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with the definition stating that they are “a large outdoor board for displaying advertisements.” As this is a broad description, the types of billboards available include:

  • Static billboards, such as those commonly seen on highways
  • Mobile billboards: These are advertisements that are transported on the back of a vehicle such as a car or bicycle.
  • Digital billboards: LED screens that display digitally animated advertisements.

There are numerous individual options available within each of these sub-categories. Billboards can be almost any shape or size, hand-painted, printed graphically, or managed digitally, and rented for varying lengths of time.

What it does

Billboards are typically used as part of an integrated advertising campaign, and their bold and easily identifiable format is ideal for campaigns with a strong, simple message. With that said, there aren’t many campaigns where billboard advertising won’t work – if the message can be conveyed with a static (or moving, as in digital) image, it’ll probably work on a billboard.

This type of outdoor advertising is especially useful for raising awareness of a brand, product, or promotion – and because of their ubiquitous presence and relative cost-effectiveness, they can be used as a galvanizing force in all types of campaigns.

2. Point of sale advertising

point of sale advertising

While some types of OOHM are designed to capture the attention of a broad range of consumers, point of sale advertising (also known as ‘POS’ or ‘POP’ – point of purchase) is more targeted. This type of commercial involves an advertisement or display placed near a ‘point of sale,’ such as the checkout section of a supermarket or near the queue in a clothing store, with the goal of promoting products or services to a consumer just as they are about to make a purchase.

Types of point of sale advertising

Because the term “point of sale” simply refers to the location of this type of advertising, the possibilities are nearly endless. Some of the most common and easily recognized types of point of sale advertising are:

  • Advertisements above containers: A simple visual aid or poster placed above a basket, cooler, or other container containing the promoted product;
  • Display stands with logos: Display stands printed and branded in materials ranging from cardboard to fully printed perspex.

What it does

The psychological theory behind point of sale advertising is simple: because the target audience is about to make a purchase anyway, they are more likely to be open to the suggestion of adding another product to their basket, especially if that product is on sale or is unique to the store they’re in. Products, brands, and promoted items are carefully selected to be of interest to the specific buyer – for example, shoe polish and laces at a bootmaker’s checkout.

Point of sale campaigns are also useful for brands or marketers promoting a product that is currently on sale or is a limited or special edition. The implied pressure of only being able to take advantage of the offer ‘right then and there’ can persuade a consumer that purchasing the item right away is in their best interests.

3. Retail advertising

retail advertising

Retail advertising is another extremely popular and successful form of OOHM that takes place specifically in or around retail environments such as stores and shopping malls. Printing technology advancements in recent years have expanded the options available to marketers and advertisers, from simple printed advertisements to more memorable displays that leave a lasting impression.

Retail advertising frequently promotes businesses in close proximity to the environment in which the advertisements are located (for example, a store with an outlet in a shopping mall) and encourages customers to visit their premises. Malls, for example, have plenty of space for large-scale displays by well-known brands, and more elaborate advertisements are becoming more common.

Types of retail advertising

Retail advertising comes in a variety of forms and can be applied on a variety of scales, making it a viable option for businesses of all sizes and budgets. Some of the most effective and visible forms of retail advertising are:

  • Lift graphics: These are two-part visual designs that are printed on vinyl and adhered to the surface of lift doors.
  • Floor graphics: Adhered to the floor of a retail environment, floor graphics allow marketers to creatively provide an immersive advertising environment.
  • Mall media: Media used for retail advertisements in a large shopping mall space, such as floor and roof graphics, window films, and banners.

What it does 

In general, the goal of retail advertising is to entice consumers to visit a store or purchase a product that is close to where they saw the advertisement.

This differs from the use of billboards primarily due to its immediacy. Retail advertisements are frequently designed to drive foot traffic and sales to the relevant store, rather than simply increasing brand awareness (though this is an unavoidable byproduct).

4. Vehicle advertising

vehicle advertising

While static advertisements like billboards can be an effective way to capitalize on a high traffic area, the number of people reached is limited to that specific location. Vehicle advertising avoids this by presenting an on-the-go advertisement in the form of a printed graphic placed on the side of the vehicle or as a vinyl wrap covering its body.

Because of the increased exposure it provides, this is an effective and popular type of outdoor advertising. Because the vehicle in question (typically a taxi, bus, or van) is constantly moving, the advertisement can reach people in a much larger catchment area.

This raises brand awareness on a much larger scale and can be a valuable source of exposure for national companies or those with multiple locations. Vehicle advertising can also be an effective way of reinforcing a company’s presence in a given area if a fleet of vehicles with the same branding is seen on a regular basis.

Types of vehicle advertising

Vehicle advertising can refer to any number of specific vehicles, but it is typically produced by graphic printing companies in the formats listed below.

  • Truck and fleet liveries: businesses that own a fleet of trucks or vehicles can have vinyl wrap liveries applied to the body of the vehicles to display their branding or advertise a product or promotion.
  • Taxi wraps: taxi fleets also provide an opportunity for outdoor advertising, and advertisers are sometimes allowed to use their vehicles as advertising space for vinyl wrap branding.
  • Bus advertisements: Buses’ large surface areas are also available for advertising, with specific panels dedicated to printed advertisements.

What it does

A vehicle advertisement’s primary goal is usually to raise brand awareness, but it can also function as an integrated part of a specific campaign. Fleet liveries are an excellent way to increase a brand’s visibility, especially if that brand is involved in delivery or goods shipment.

Having said that, it’s worth noting that many businesses rent out space on the sides of their vehicles – the advertisement you see on the side of a truck, for example, isn’t always representative of the delivery or work that truck is actually involved in. This can give the impression that the advertised business is more prolific than it is, which can help to increase and maintain a positive brand image.

5. Construction advertising

construction advertising

At any given time, multiple construction sites will be active in both urban and rural areas. The need for protective barriers, such as hoardings and scaffold covers, provides more than just a means of keeping the public and workers safe; it also provides a unique opportunity for outdoor advertising.

Construction advertisements may include a preview of the ongoing project or a promotion for the company or companies involved with the work. They can also promote other local businesses that rent the available spaces.

Construction advertising requires a delicate balancing act, as local councils and authorities frequently dictate the types of advertisements that can and cannot be used. Here are a few rules and regulations for construction hoarding graphics that determine whether or not the designs will be accepted.

Types of construction advertising

There are numerous spaces and methods for advertising on a construction site, and they are among the most visible and adaptable types of outdoor advertising available. Here are some examples:

  • Hoarding graphics: The protective hoarding surrounding a construction site provides an excellent opportunity for outdoor advertising, and graphic printing onto vinyl can be used to create a long-lasting and high-impact advertisement.
  • Scaffold wraps: Graphics can now be printed directly onto the protective meshes that surround building scaffolds, transforming them into eye-catching OOH opportunities.
  • Building wraps: For larger projects that require extensive scaffolding or structural support, building wraps can be printed to cover the entire structure, creating a visual facade that can also function as an outdoor advertisement.

What it does

Because construction advertising is more strictly regulated, these forms of OOH are frequently used to specifically promote the project in progress; for example, they may preview the look of the finished project or provide information as to what the construction project is actually for. Similarly, simple brand advertisements are used to promote construction or contracting firms.

It’s also worth noting that one of the goals of construction advertising is to get local governments to approve its display. As a result, construction advertisements must consider the local environment and how they can visually assimilate in an aesthetically pleasing manner.

Outdoor advertising Law in the UK

Planning permission

According to the UK government’s Outdoor Advertising Law, permission must be granted by the owner of the ad site in question, as well as the local planning authority responsible for that area, before advertising outdoors.

In some cases, ‘deemed consent’ rules mean that certain advertisements do not require permission from the local authority. These include shopfront fascia signs, “to let” signs, public notices, and so on. It’s worthwhile to read through the entire list.

If your ad does not meet the deemed consent criteria, you must submit an application requesting “express consent” to display it. After that, a decision must 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

  1. The area of special control of outdoor advertisements

These are areas that are distinguished by their scenic beauty or historical, cultural, or architectural features. These areas warrant stricter advertising controls in order to preserve the area’s “visual amenity.”

  1. Removal of “deemed consent”

If special circumstances exist, the local authority may revoke deemed consent. This could be because the ad in question has been determined to be obstructing the view or posing a safety hazard.

  1. Discontinuance of a specific advertisement or the use of an advertising site

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

The 5 standard conditions

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

  • Maintained cleanliness and order
  • Maintain your safety.
  • Obtain permission from the site’s owner.
  • Do not “obscure or hinder the interpretation” of official road, rail, waterway, or aircraft signs, or endanger their use.
  • Be carefully removed as directed by the local planning authority

9 types of “out-of-home” advertising that are excluded from planning authority control

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

  • Advertisements displayed inside a building as long as they are not illuminated or displayed within one meter of a window or external opening that makes them visible from the outside.
  • Advertisements in the form of tickets, markers, trade names, branded goods, or advertisements displayed on vending machines or petrol pumps (for example, the Coca Cola logo may feature on a drink vending machine).
  • Deemed consent is also granted to purpose-built advertising sites such as street kiosks, as long as the posters are no larger than four-sheets in size.
  • Areas that have been used for ad displays for ten years or more are also eligible for deemed consent, as long as the size or scale of the advertising does not change.
  • Flags bearing a company name or logo, or relating to a limited-time event, are permitted, but not flags bearing advertisements for specific products.
  • Advertisements 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 advertisements displayed on the pavement or highway outside a premise.
  • A business establishment may display an advertisement for goods or services offered on its premises.

Interestingly, advertisers are encouraged to place advertisements on hoardings surrounding construction sites for a maximum of three years. As a result, deemed consent applies in these situations. This is intended to provide a financial incentive to advertisers by providing some environmental benefit to construction sites.

The application is fee-based, and you must also submit illustrative plans and drawings of the proposed advertisement. For current fees, contact the relevant local Planning Department.

The decision process

Interests of amenity

The term “amenity interests” is commonly understood to refer to how appropriate an advertisement is to its surrounding environment. A large billboard near a listed office released building or obscuring a scenic beauty area is likely to be denied. The same billboard is likely to be approved in a nearby industrial estate.

“Amenity” refers to both aural and visual concerns, so a noisy ad might be turned down if it’s next to a peaceful country church, for example. On a busy local high street, the same could be accepted.

Interests of public safety

“Public safety,” like “amenity,” is a somewhat subjective term. This usually refers to whether or not an advertisement is distracting or confusing enough to endanger vehicles or pedestrians while traveling by land, sea, or air.

Many planning authorities have developed policy statements on advertisement control that explain what factors they consider relevant to their decision.

What happens after the decision has been made? 

Consent to display an advertisement is typically valid for up to five years. Because the specific timeframe may be longer or shorter, you should check how long the consent is valid for.

Unless you’ve been told that the ad must be removed after the consent expires, you don’t have to; however, the local authority may take ‘discontinuance action’ against it.

If you have not made an application and deemed consent does not apply, you will not be prosecuted; instead, you may be asked to submit an application retroactively. However, if your application is officially denied, you will be fined £2500.

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 permission is considered fly-posting and is punishable by immediate prosecution or the removal or destruction of the ad. If a placard or poster identifies its owner, the Council must provide two days’ written notice before removing or destroying it. Obtaining permission to advertise outside is clearly a complicated process.

Regulations of the advertisement content

In a nutshell, there are two main rules regarding related content that you must follow:

  1. Alcohol, e-cigarettes, fast food, sweets, and toys are not permitted within 200 meters of schools.
  2. There will be no political advertising on bus shelters.

Additional regulations may apply to local councils or landlords, so it’s always a good idea to check with our support team to ensure that your outdoor advertising complies with any applicable regulations. In addition to these rules, your advertisement must follow the UK Advertising Codes established by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP).

Roadside advertising rules

The various issues surrounding roadside advertising regulations can become quite complicated. However, as with all of these things, a solid understanding of the fundamentals is essential. When booking advertising, it is best to go through an agency that has already taken care of the legal side of things. If you’re going it alone, here’s a good rule of thumb:

If in doubt, ask the Council.

Most forms of commercial advertising require some form of planning permission in advance, and roadside advertising is no exception. The first step is to submit a planning application to your local planning authority (Council).

Roadside advertising applications can be submitted through the Department for Communities and Local Government’s planning portal.

Your request for roadside advertising clearance will almost certainly be forwarded to Highways England, formerly the Highways Authority.

The term “highway” refers to all roads, carriageways, footpaths, and pavements.

Any advertisement that is deemed to be obstructing road access, obscuring signs, or distracting drivers can be removed, even if permission was initially granted.

For these reasons, the presence of advertisements on highways and dual carriageways is strictly regulated. Local pressure groups opposed to the widespread use of advertising across the country (particularly in rural areas) have been at odds with industry lobbyists. This conflict has influenced legislation over the years. The overall conclusion is that attitudes toward regulating roadside advertising vary greatly by region. Some councils will be looking for reasons to deny roadside advertisers permission, while others will be eager to encourage roadside advertising.

In cities, there are usually pre-existing advertising networks where brands can display their creatives. The amount of advertising real estate in any given area will have grown as a result of a partnership between out-of-home media owners such as Clear Channel and JCDecaux. Some media owners encourage councils to use ad sites by providing useful local information alongside commercial ads.

There are two main factors that need to be born in mind regarding the take-up of roadside advertising.

  1. Who owns the website where the advertisement appears? Have they authorized the display of advertisements?
  2. Is the Highways Authority and the local council in agreement with the ad’s display? I.e., do they consider the ad placement to be “amenable” to the local area and not to be causing any obstruction or physical risk, including the possibility of dangerously distracting traffic?

It is extremely rare for the owner of an ad site to actually own the site outright. Typically, they will have a landlord license allowing them to display advertisements. It is necessary to obtain permission. To summarize, the various roadside advertising regulations are complicated and vary by council. When it comes to obtaining permission to display roadside advertisements, your first point of contact should be the local council authority in charge of the ad site.

Bottom lines

OOH media is a highly effective medium for communicating with people at the right time and place. However, it is not without its own set of difficulties, particularly when it comes to rules and regulations. You can reduce these challenges by researching OOH regulations in your city or state before you begin planning your campaign.


Before advertising outdoors, the owner of the ad site in question, as well as the local planning authority responsible for that area, must grant permission. In some cases, ‘deemed consent’ rules mean that certain advertisements do not require permission from the local authority.

So, if you want to advertise on the fence of a field near your business, you must first obtain permission from the field’s owner. Advertising must also be kept in good condition, clean, and secure.

Along all state and federal highways, as well as in many local jurisdictions, business signs in public right-of-ways on the side of the road are illegal. Outlaw signs distract drivers, obstruct traffic signal visibility, and clutter the landscape.

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