The extension of the ASA’s online remit in March was a landmark regulatory development, especially for those responsible for marketing claims on their websites and social network sites under their control.

Seven months on what’s the story so far?

The data reveals that complaint levels have been substantially above those forecasted.  There’s clearly a public demand for the remit extension and the ASA has had its hands full dealing with the number of complaints.

Between 1 March and 23 September 2011, the ASA received:

  • 5,531 complaints about 5,165 ads/campaigns (cases) under the new remit, out of a total of 18,369 complaints about 14,205 cases
  • 30% of complaints and 36% of cases in the period fell under the new remit, putting the ASA on course for record complaints and cases figures in 2011
  • 86% of the cases under the new remit related to misleading advertising claims (compared to 65% for all cases in 2010).

What has prompted the complaints?

In terms of the new remit, the most complained-about sector is complementary health, in the main because it has been targeted by orchestrated complaint campaigns.  But on the whole the subject of the complaints and the sectors about which complaints have been raised are similar to those about ads in other media: concerns around pricing, availability and the performance of products in sectors like retail, leisure, computers and telecommunications and holidays and travel.

The ASA published its first upheld adjudication against a website owner in April.  The offending ad included an unsubstantiated efficacy claim for a unicorn badge, which, it was claimed, could repel head lice.  The ASA has since made several rulings involving more mainstream operators. In the vast majority of cases website owners who have been contacted by the ASA have wilfully amended or removed problem claims. 

Advertisers that have continued to make problem claims on their sites, despite the initial intervention of CAP’s Compliance teams, have now been posted on the ASA’s enhanced name and shame section for non-complying digital advertisers.  This serves to inform the public of those website owners who continue to make misleading claims in breach of the Code.

Prior to the remit extension coming into effect the Compliance team conducted a new remit survey.  They assessed 120 websites covering a range of different business sectors to identify obvious breaches of the CAP Code.  Six websites contained obviously misleading claims, of which four related to the omission of compulsory charges from the headline price. The results serve as a benchmark against which the results from a 2012 survey will be compared.

By extending the ASA’s remit, the advertising industry and CAP have extended the protections of the CAP Code to consumers and businesses alike.  The immediate response from the public has been significant and the ongoing cooperation and support from advertisers have been encouraging.  A regulatory gap has been plugged and the principles of legal, decent, honest and truthful advertising are now being more widely and comprehensively applied. 

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