Ad complaints reach a record high

Britain’s advertising regulator has been forced to deny being out of touch with consumers after admitting it did not ban any of the 10 most offensive ads of 2008.

Despite receiving the highest number of objections in its history, and taking more action as a result, the ASA said the most complained about ads were within the rules.

Standing its ground, a spokesman for the Advertising Standards Authority said that in each of the ten cases, “there were very good reasons why action was not required.”

The watchdog’s defence to the Daily Mail coincides with whispers heard by another national paper that, contrary to claims it is toothless, the ASA is awaiting new powers.

Disclosures seen by the Independent say a new social responsibility code will permit the ASA to ban reckless consumer credit promotions that invite casual borrowing.

The clampdown will consign to history the appealing offer, typically advertised during daytime TV, of “combine all your existing debts into one easy monthly payment.”

Hinting at tighter rules for loan ads, the ASA said in its annual report: “The economic downturn makes it even more important to protect consumers from being misled.

“We acted swiftly against some financial ads that trivialised the process of applying for credit or insurance.”

One ad ruled to suggest a consolidated loan could be taken out lightly showed a man securing it over the phone while chatting to his wife and playing with a football.

The ad was like almost half of all the ads complained about, in that viewers found it misleading, the top charge, followed by perceived offensiveness and then harm.

A Barnardo’s campaign against child abuse featuring repeated violence, including a child being slapped, was the most upsetting ad of 2008 and attracted 840 complaints.

The second most complained about was a Volkswagen ad which showed a singing dog looking cowed and shaken, prompting unfounded claims it had been mistreated.

Other ads that the public found the most irksome, but which all emerged as within the advertisers’ code, were for Orangina, Heinz Deli Mayo and the Department of Health.

Elsewhere, Paddy Power was rapped for linking gambling with success, Eidos was reprimanded for appearing to condone violence, and Ryan Air was slapped for making unfair comparisons.

The ASA said it had taken more action against environmental claims in 2008 – a year which also saw the highest number of complaints (26,433) about a record number (15,556) of ads.


30th April 2009

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