Our Annual Report published today puts the spotlight on our ‘big five’ misleading advertising priorities – free trials, pricing, daily deals, testimonials and health claims – and what we’ve been doing to tackle them so that consumers and business get a fair deal.

An important part of our work is listening to what consumers and businesses have to say about ads through the complaints they lodge with us. Last year, 70% of our cases were about misleading advertising.

Chairman of the ASA, Lord Smith said: “Making sure that responsible advertising isn’t being under-cut by the irresponsible helps get a fair deal for consumers and competitors. Misleading ads hoodwink consumers, give an unfair advantage to businesses that don’t play by the rules and erode trust in advertising. While the majority of ads stick to the rules, we’re determined to tackle those that don’t.”

Our Report also reveals that:

• We received 31,298 complaints about 18,990 ads
• Our work led to 3,700 ads being changed or withdrawn
• We dealt with 6,273 complaints about 5,338 online ads – 28% of our workload

The ASA’s ‘big five’ misleading advertising priorities:

Free Trials
We banned several ads last year where customers were unwittingly tied into an on-going paid relationship with an advertiser after signing up for a free offer. We remain alert to tackling this worrying practice and warning consumers to read the small print carefully before handing over any payment details.

Misleading pricing
Our action has already led to more transparent pricing in the hotels sector, getting them to include VAT in their advertised room prices, and in the telecoms sector through clearer information on price packages that include several elements, e.g. broadband, line rental, call costs and TV.

Daily deals
We found widespread problems such as failing to conduct promotions fairly; not making clear significant terms and conditions; failing to provide evidence that offers were available; and making exaggerated savings claims.

Our action has resulted in a wholesale shift in the way ‘daily deals’ companies now approach their advertising and has led to a welcome fall in complaints and a real improvement in the way daily deals are promoted.

Misleading testimonials
Testimonials must be genuine and mustn’t be edited in a way that misleads. We’ve been busy working to improve transparency around paid endorsements. For example, our rulings against celebrity tweets have set a clear benchmark that requires advertisers to make it obvious when the tweet is a paid-for commercial message.

Misleading health claims
False claims can have serious consequences by discouraging people from seeking proper medical advice. Many of these claims are made online. We’re taking action where we can. By taking action and raising awareness, we play an important part in protecting consumers from misleading and potentially harmful ads.

Read the full ASA and CAP Annual Report here.

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