The Advertising Standards Authority is risking accusations that it is cosying up to the ad industry after revealing only three out of the top ten most complained about ads of last year were actually banned – and even then only in part.
The ASA’s annual report claims that the regulator “achieved some significant changes in advertising practice for the benefit of consumers and business” during 2013, including a tough stance on payday lenders, copycat websites, theatre ticket pricing and letting agent fees.
However, the watchdog appears to be out of touch with the public over what they deem offensive and irresponsible.
The most complained about ad of last year (pictured) was for e-fag brand VIP Electronic Cigarette (937 complaints) which showed a model seemingly offering to give the viewer oral sex, saying “I want you to get it out, I want to see it, I want to feel it, hold it, put it in my mouth, I want to see how great it tastes.”
Declining to ban the ad outright, the ASA ruled it should not appear before 11pm on TV but was clear to run on YouTube.
Unilever had three ads – for Marmite, Flora Buttery and Bertolli – in the top ten list, although none was sanctioned. Meanwhile, AG Barr (Irn-Bru), Red Bull and Reckitt Benckiser Healthcare also escaped action.
The three others – Pussy Drinks (Pussy posters), Cancer Research UK (Cancer We’re Coming to Get You) and the Home Office (Go Home or Face Arrest posters) – were upheld in part.
One industry insider said: “The ASA may bang on about how it keeps the industry in check, but do the public see it that way too? Although I agree with most of its rulings, it doesn’t get it right all the time, and it could open itself up to claims it is looking after its own and out of touch with public feeling.”
In terms of overall complaints, TV still leads the field, up 10% from 2012 to 13,179 gripes. Internet ads are second, up 2% to 9,988, followed by outdoor (down 27% to 1,180), email (down 13% to 987) and press (down 26% to 968). Direct mail was in eighth place (down 20% to 529).
One of the fastest growth areas was mobile (up 250%) but there were still only 54 complaints registered.
ASA chairman Lord Chris Smith said: “Overall, UK advertising is creative, impactful and overwhelmingly responsible. By listening to consumers and business we’ve taken action to stop various advertising techniques that are misleading or simply unfair. By spending more time tackling problem ads in a swift and proactive manner we can help achieve our ambition: to make every UK ad a responsible ad.”
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