Many of the complaints the watchdog deals with are from rival companies, who in the some cases of have legal departments scanning rivals’ marketing activity. It is understood that BSkyB has a legal team dedicated to scrutinising Virgin Media’s marketing activity.
The move also follows a long-running tit-for-tat dispute between The ReaD Group and Millennium over their deceased suppression files.
An ASA update, published on its website states: “Our preliminary work on competitor charging revealed that Section 28(2)(a) of the Communications Act prohibits Ofcom from charging for services it is under a duty to provide. We have sought legal advice and believe that that prohibition extends to us; it would be unlawful for us to charge for investigating competitor complaints about broadcast advertising.”
The ASA said in its review that it had conducted research on how much of its time was taken up by competitor complaints. It found that complex investigations stemming from competitor complaints took 104 days to resolve, rather than the 65 days taken for standard complaints.
“Although responsible for only a minority of cases, competitors’ complaints are common in some sectors and, as the figures above show, do typically take longer than most other types of cases,” it said. “We expect that our recommendations to speed up formal investigations will help us to resolve cases faster.”
But the regulator said that it might enforce stricter rules on competitor complaints.”We are also considering insisting that competitor complainants provide documentary evidence that they have made a genuine attempt to resolve their concerns direct with the advertiser before we will agree to investigate,” it said. “Our Complaint Handling Procedures require non-public complainants (e.g. competitors) to endeavour to resolve their differences, wherever possible, direct with the marketer or through their trade or professional organisation. We were interested to note from our ‘Waiting time’ analysis that only one of the 19 competitors involved in that analysis appeared to have done that.”
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