Who: Committee of Advertising Practice (“CAP”) / Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”)
When: 30 April 2013
Where: United Kingdom
Law stated as at: 7 June 2013
The ASA and CAP Annual Report 2012 was published on 30 April 2013 and reveals a number of interesting pieces of information.
The ASA received a whopping 31,298 complaints about 18,990 ads last year, which is actually a slight decrease on the number of complaints received in 2011, while 3,700 ads were changed or withdrawn as a result of ASA and CAP action.
Around 70% of complaints related to misleading advertising as opposed to advertising that was harmful or offensive, while the vast majority of complaints, some 96%, came from the general public.
Television remains the most complained about medium, closely followed by the internet, which was the medium for around 28% of complaints, many of which would of course have been outside the remit of CAP and the ASA prior to March 2011.
For the first time ever, CAP and the ASA have used their annual report to reveal their “big five” misleading advertising priorities, which are:
• Free trials that cost – ensuring that customers are not unwittingly tied into an on-going paid relationship with an advertiser after signing up for a free offer.
• Daily deals – taking action against widespread problems including failing to conduct promotions fairly, not making clear significant terms and conditions, failing to provide evidence of sufficient availability and making exaggerated savings claims.
• Misleading pricing – tackling misleading pricing practices including so-called “bait-pricing”, “drip-pricing” or “partition pricing” where extra costs such as booking fees, credit card charges and admin costs are added during the purchase process.
• Misleading testimonials – taking action where advertisers do not hold convincing evidence that testimonials are genuine, edit them in a way that misleads or fail to be transparent regarding paid endorsements.
• Misleading health claims – ensuring advertisers hold suitable evidence to back up their claims, particularly as many shoppers will be particularly vulnerable in this area.
Most complained about ads
The annual report also reveals the top ten most complained about ads of 2012.
The most complained about ad was a TV ad for Gocompare.com and featured former footballer Stuart Pearce kicking a football into the stomach of an opera singer. The ASA, however, ruled that the ad was not offensive, irresponsible or harmful because it was not explicit or gruesome, and would be seen as light hearted and comical.
Interestingly, the second most complained about ad was another TV ad for Gocompare.com ! That ad featured Sue Barker taking aim and shooting the main character with a rocket launcher, but the ASA again rejected the complaints. It held that the ad was not offensive or harmful as it showed over-the-top and fantastical behaviour and would be seen as comical.
The third most complained about ad was an allegedly sexist ad for ASDA and featured a mother carrying out various tasks in preparation for Christmas. The ASA rejected the complaints on the basis that it reflected ASDA’s view of the Christmas experience for a significant number of its customers.
A key focus for the ASA in 2012 was being better at regulating competitor complaints and the annual report indicates considerable success in this area as a result of the new ASA competitor complaints regime, which was introduced on 1 December 2011.
The new regime requires advertisers to present evidence that they have tried to resolve the complaint amicably before the ASA will launch an investigation, and delivered a 64% reduction in competitor complaints and a 78% reduction in the number of competitor complaints requiring assessment. The knock on effect was that the average time taken to formally investigate a competitor complaint fell from 107 to 61 days.
Why this matters:
The annual report provides interesting reading for those working in the advertising sector. The highlight is probably CAP and the ASA revealing their “big five” misleading advertising priorities. Clearly daily deals websites and those making health claims should pay special attention to their compliance with advertising regulations.
However, free trials and testimonials are areas that will be relevant to many advertisers, while most if not all advertisers are touched by pricing issues, so there’s probably something for everyone to think about in the coming months!