Latest UK ad complaint figures released

•    More online ads challenged, but TV ads most complained about

•    Focus of TV ad complaints is offence; focus of online ad complaints is misleadingness 

•    Men complain more about misleadingness; women more concerned about harm and offence

•    Leisure and retail ads top the list for both complaints and cases

Complaints to the ASA in the first half of 2017 show that TV continues to be the most complained about advertising medium with 5,127 complaints about 2,272 ads.  Online ads are a close second (4,062 complaints), with more individual ads (3,852) complained about than any other medium.

Despite receiving fewer complaints, there were 11% more cases (individual ads complained about) compared to the same period in 2016. In total, we received 13,131 complaints (19.8% fewer than last year) about 9,486 ads (January – June).  The decline in complaints is due to the prominence last year of the Moneysupermarket ads, one of which alone gave rise to over 1,000 complaints.   

As a result of our work, we have secured the amendment or withdrawal of 3,034 ads over the six month period (up 88% compared to the first half of 2016, itself a record year).  

Misleading ads continue to prompt the most complaints 8,195 (62%) and represent the bulk of the ASA’s workload (accounting for 76% of cases).  

There is a clear difference between TV and online ads in terms of the issues that prompt public concern: The majority of complaints about TV ads are on the grounds of offence (3,439) rather than misleadingness (1,677); while the majority of complaints about online ads concern misleadingness (3,673) rather than harm and offence (360). 

The reasons for these trends are explained by the differences in audience size and viewing habits for the two media, as well as the pre-clearance checks in place for TV.  A large proportion of potentially misleading claims in TV ads are stopped before they’re broadcast; instead, subjective issues relating to harm or offence often prompt complaints from large audience groups.  With online ads, complaints tend to be submitted by individuals drawn from smaller audiences and are more likely to concern truthfulness and fairness.

The new figures show that men continue to complain more about ads than women (59% to 38%).  In total, men lodged 7,729 complaints compared to 5,031 by women. There are also marked differences in the kind of ads complained about, with women complaining more about harm and offence (F: 56% v M: 44%) while men complain more about misleadingness (M: 70% v F: 30%). 

The top five most complained about media are (2016’s position in brackets):

  Media Complaints Cases (ads)
1. TV 5,127  (1) 2,272 
2. Internet 4,062  (2) 3,852 
3. Email 507     (4) 486
4. Radio  447     (5) 313
5. Poster 425     (3) 257

The top five most complained about sectors are (2016’s position in brackets):

  Sector Complaints Cases (ads)
1. Leisure 2,089  (1) 1,566 
2. Retail 2,001  (2)   1,679 
3. Health and Beauty 1,446  (4) 965  
4. Financial 1,302  (3) 662  
5. Business 1,047  (8) 902  

Commenting on the half-year figures, ASA Chief Executive Guy Parker said

“We’re spending more time online, but the mass audience of TV ads means they continue to generate the most complaints.  Online ads account for the greatest number of individual cases, with the majority being companies’ own advertising claims on their own websites and social media spaces.  Whatever the issue and whatever the medium, we should all be able to trust the ads we see and hear.  If an ad is wrong, we’re here to put it right.”


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