The UK’s advertising watchdog celebrated its 50th year with an annual report featuring the “ten most complained about ads of all time,” but what nuggets lurked in the less eye-catching small print? Stephen Groom pulls out some plums.
Who: Advertising Standards Authority
When: 30 May 2012
Law stated as at: 1 July 2012
The Advertising Standards Authority ("ASA") published its annual report for 2011.
Apart from celebrating its first half century by showcasing the ten most complained about ads of all time, the Report contained some interesting facts and figures.
Here are some highlights:
- in the first ten months of its new, extended online remit covering most website content and social media marketing, the ASA received no less than 7,195 complaints about 6,631 online ads. These comprised a whopping 29% of all cases and contributed to an overall increase in cases of 71% year on year. This was considerably more than expected, but the ASA still coped with only a 15% increase in staff;
- "own website" ads for complementary and alternative medicine featured particularly strongly in the new online caseload;
- across all media, the most complained about sector was leisure, just as it was in 2010, followed by retail, health & beauty, computers & telecoms and financial;
- the sectors which yielded the biggest caseload increases over 2010 were electrical appliances, industrial & engineering and education;
- the most complained about media were TV (as in 2010) but now closely followed by the Internet, which "enjoyed" a case load increase of 299.4%. Complaints about direct mail were down a significant 20%, whilst email and text ads were the subject of respectively 48% and 213% more complaints. In-game advertising generated a 600% caseload increase but the number of cases in 2010 was just one;
- the Independent Reviewer (who operates the ASA's only appeal process) was a busy bunny as he received 60 independent review requests, double the number in 2010. However the percentage of cases referred back to the ASA Council reduced from 27% in 2010 to just 20% in 2011. From that point appellants' prospects improved, with the original decision reversed in 5 cases out of 12, compared with just one case out of 9 in 2010;
- the financial report shows a not unhealthy picture, particularly given the 15% staff increase. An after tax loss in 2010 of £124,335 became a £41,632 profit, with income jumping from £6.7m to £7.6m and staff costs increasing by only £500,000 odd despite the bigger head-count;
- the average time taken to turn round complaints overall was 14 working days compared with one day less in 2010, whilst for cases requiring a formal investigation the average resolution time was 36 days, considerably better than 2010's 44 days.
Why this matters:
The case handling and financial results in the report demonstrate the positive impact of the "system review" instituted by CEO Guy Parker shortly after taking up his post and the efficiency with which he has run the ship ever since.
The Independent Review statistics suggest that once "appellants" have persuaded Sir Hayden Phillips that there are good grounds for the case to be referred back to the ASA Council, there are decent prospects of a positive result in the form of a reversal of the original decision.
The complaint statistics yield few surprises and very much reflect the changing UK advertising landscape. Digital ad complaints (internet, email, text, mobile and in game) totalled 11693, just short of the combined total of 11954 for TV and radio. There can be little doubt that TV and radio will be overhauled in 2012, since the 2011 internet complaint total of 10,123 related to only ten months' ads due to the extended online remit not cutting in until 1 March 2012.