Britain’s Ads Attract Record Complaints

02 May 2003

Britain’s ad campaigns generated more outrage in 2002 than ever before, according to an industry watchdog.

In its annual report, the Advertising Standards Authority – which regulates non-broadcast ads – reveals that the number of complaints made in 2002 rose 10.8% to 13,959, an all-time record.

Complaints about taste and decency saw particularly rapid growth, jumping 24% to 3,142. Other major bones of contention include whether an ad is telling the truth (2,682 complaints) and whether it is making claims that can be substantiated (1,722).

WAMN and others have argued that agencies are increasingly using ‘shock’ tactics, producing deliberately provocative campaigns to get noticed and generate free publicity in the press [WAMN: 19-Mar-03].

ASA director general Christopher Graham admits this is a possibility. “When an industry is in recession there must be a strong temptation to let the rules go by the board in order to achieve short term gains.”

However, seemingly ignoring the surge in complaints, Graham insists this has not happened. “Our compliance research featured in the report shows that advertisers overwhelmingly abide by the rules. This shows that self-regulation works, in tough times and in good.”

By medium, posters caused the most concern. The number of complaints about billboard ads rocketed 77% to 3,051, while the runner-up was direct mail, albeit that protests fell by four hundred to 2,710.

The ad attracting most complaints was for the British Heart Foundation, featuring a woman with a plastic bag over her head. However, the sector causing the most outrage was food and drink, which accounted for four of the eleven most controversial ads.

Data sourced from: BBC Online Business News (UK); additional content by WARC staff