The Advertising Standards Authority’s 2004 report reveals more than a perhaps surprising reduction in complaints in respect of email marketing. In particular, a loss of £764,187 looks pretty eye-watering compared to last year’s profit of £7,879.
The Advertising Standards Authority
The Advertising Standards Authority published its Annual Report for 2004. The first report published by the self regulator since it assumed responsibility for processing complaints in respect of broadcast as well as non-broadcast advertising, the update contains some interesting nuggets.
Email marketing comfort
For e-mail marketers there is a crumb of comfort in what appears to be a stabilisation of complaints received in respect of e-mail marketing. Whilst the 2003 report highlighted an exponential rise in complaints, with nearly 30 times more complaints received over ads in the medium in 2003 compared with 2002, the situation was quite different in 2004. During this period, e-mail marketing "complaints resolved" totalled 405 compared with the total of 456 in 2003.
Other good news
There is also good news for direct marketing. Complaints in respect of DM campaigns fell by more than 11% in 2004 compared with the previous year. As a result, direct mail swapped places with the national press in the "most complained about advertising medium" handicap.
In 2003 direct mail came top with 2521 complaints resolved compared with 2327 complaints resolved in respect of national press ads. In 2004 the position reversed, with national press complaints at 2270 and direct mail at 2228. The outdoor poster medium stayed at number 3 with 1820 complaints, whilst internet advertising moved from 5th to 4th spot.
From a sectoral point of view, leisure was still top of the hall of shame, outstripping the second most complained about sector, "computers and telecommunications," by more than 100%, with complaints resolved at 3,343 compared with computers and telecommunications' 1,322.
Focusing on broadcast complaints, there is no sectoral data in this year's report, perhaps partly because the ASA was in transitional mode so far as this medium was concerned. In terms of complaints received and complaints resolved, however, the figures were up in both cases on the previous year. 9,860 broadcast ad complaints were received about 2,532 commercials, whereas in 2003, the figures were 9,082 and 1,642 respectively.
More digital complaints
During 2004, nearly half of the complaints at 57% were made by e-mail or via the ASA's website, although this was only a relatively small increase on the 45% for 2003, which was a much more substantial increase from 28% in 2002.
The average time taken to resolve non broadcast complaints was 27 days, exactly the same as in 2003, and as with 2003, 2 days outside the ASA's self-set target of 25 days. However, 76% of complainants apparently said they were satisfied with the speed with which the ASA acted.
It is possible to appeal ASA adjudications to the independent reviewer Sir John Cains. Sir John's review of 2004 appears in the ASA report.
Here he reports a decrease in the number of cases received in 2004 to 43 compared with 52 in 2003.
Out of these cases, the most striking feature, Sir John reports, was the small proportion of requests which actually satisfied the criteria for reference back to the ASA council for review. For the previous 5 years the average had been 40%, but in 2004 it was just 12%. In other words, the vast majority of appeals did not even get past first base.
Another striking feature of the year's figures was that whereas in 2003, 3 cases out of 52 ended up in the reversal of the original verdict, not a single decision was reversed in 2004. Not that this is too surprising since all Sir John decides on is whether there should be a review. Even if he gives the green light, then the case goes back to the Council so that it can decide if its own previous decision was wrong.
In 2004, there was also a smaller proportion of adjudications on industry complaints. In the past 5 years the proportions averaged 37% whilst in 2004 it was no more than 21%.
Compared with 2003, when an excess of income over expenditure of £7,879 was reported, the combined loss before tax for both non broadcast and broadcast activity for 2004 was a stonking £764,187. This was despite an increase in income over the previous year from £4.6 million to £6 million.
The less flattering figures appear to be driven to some extent by the need for the expanded ASA to move premises, with an "onerous lease provision" of £696,800 and rent and accommodation costs nearly doubling from £343,898 to £672,189. "Consultancy and professional fees," again no doubt driven in large part by the widening of the ASA's remit, rose from £284,644 in 2003 to £745,067.
Why this matters:
It is to be hoped that as things stabilise in the course of 2005, the ASA will be able to get a better grip on its financial position, otherwise we could see an increase in the ASBOF levy, the "tax" on ad spend which finances the whole self regulatory system. This might also help to meet the burgeoning cost of the CAP's free advisory service.