It’s time to award the prizes for ‘most misleading’ and ‘most complained about’ TV advertisements of 2001.
Who: The Independent Television Commission
When: April 2002
The ITC published its annual report for 2001. This showed a remarkably static picture so far as the pattern of complaints over advertising was concerned. The aggregate number of complaints received in respect of advertising generally in 2001 was at 7554, actually down on 2000's 7632. Complaints about "misleading advertisements" in 2001 also actually fell 10% compared with the year 2000, and were down to 2098. Complaints about "harmful" advertising also fell from last year's high of 1770 down to 1169. So as not to engender complacency, however, the ITC ominously suggests that despite these figures "the underlying trend" was "still upwards". All they can muster in support of this, however, is a dubious reference to the September 11 tragedy.
Prize for the advertisement in respect of which the highest number of complaints was received went to Freeserve in respect of its "nudist" campaign. A total of 228 complaints were received, although Freeserve's judicious covering up of the naughty bits ensured that none of the complaints were upheld. The “most misleading advertisement” award went to PC World for a commercial for Intel Pentium 4 processors. According to the ITC this gave a misleading impression of the capabilities of the chip in relation to speed of internet access. A total of 143 complaints were received here. Top "harmful" advertisement in terms of complaints received was a Hewlett Packard commercial. This showed a group of children using mobile phones to prepare to "ambush" a tram and pelt it with snowballs. Ninety three viewers as well as the Transport and General Workers' Union and the Federation of Passenger Transport complained that the advertisement was irresponsible and could lead to harmful emulation. The ITC accepted that the advertisement could be seen as condoning harmful behaviour and upheld the complaints.
One significant development highlighted by the report was the creation in late 2001 of a single ITC content group. This was in anticipation of the coming of the "OFCOM" super communications regulatory body. Acknowledging that on its arrival OFCOM will need a "broad audience interest function" to "negotiate the difficult path to an effective but light regulation of content in the converging world", the ITC combined its Advertising and Sponsorship and Programme Groups into a single unit for the regulation of all commercial television content. This means that the new combined Programmes and Advertising Group now covers the editorial, commercial and public service aspects of all commercial television in the UK.
When it came to the sponsorship code, a mere six breaches were found by the ITC to have taken place during 2001, but it was in this category that the ITC meted out its most serious sanction of the year. This was a fine of £100,000 on London Weekend Television. This followed an investigation which led to the conclusion that payments by nightclubs had influenced their inclusion in a late night music programme Club@Vision. This breached the product placement rules in the ITC sponsorship code.
Why this matters:
The fundamental message of the ITC's 2001 Report so far as advertising and sponsorship is concerned is very much "steady as she goes". It shows that by and large the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre, which pre-vets all advertising and commercial television in the UK before it is broadcast, is doing a good job. So far as the re-arrangement of the content groups within the ITC is concerned, the jury must be out as to whether the formation of one super regulator in the form of OFCOM justifies the creation of yet more "super groups" to operate underneath it, but there can be no doubt that the creation of OFCOM will see a significant shake-up of TV content regulation when it is finally upon us.