Record number of ads draw complaintsAnti-smoking fish-hook ad got most, says ASA

30 April 2008

A man sat watching a widescreen TV

Some online DVD rental services offer film downloads to rent

A record 14,080 adverts drew complaints last year, according to new figures which show objections about environmental claims have doubled.

A Department of Health anti-smoking campaign showing people with fish-hooks in their mouths prompted the highest number of complaints for a single advert, according to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) annual report.

The hard-hitting ads drew 774 objections from viewers and readers who found them offensive, frightening and distressing.

Environmental claims

Violence, sex and race were themes which sparked public anger towards the top 10 most complained-about adverts of 2007.

Complaints about environmental claims more than doubled from 2006 to 556 objections about 408 ads as advertisers increasingly sought to promote their 'green' credentials.

The ASA said a record number of ads (2,458) were changed or withdrawn last year.

Record high

The number of ads drawing objections reached an all-time high of 14,080, an increase of 9.6% on the year before.

The authority received 24,192 complaints, an increase of 7.9% from 2006.

24,192

Number of complaints about ads in 2007

Television was the most complained about medium with 9,915 complaints, followed by internet advertising at 2,980 objections.

Prices and charges

The most common issues raised by the public about internet content were pricing, availability of goods and charges.

Launching the 2007 report, ASA chairman Lord Smith said the year had been the authority's busiest ever and warned that the rising number of complaints about internet content posed a challenge to self-regulation.

He said: 'These complaints are almost entirely about truth, accuracy, misleadingness and availability, the "meat and drink" of the ASA's daily work.

'We hope for an early outcome to the detailed discussions under way within the industry on the development of ways to ensure continued responsibility in advertising in new media settings.'

Violent imagery

The ASA is the independent watchdog for UK advertising. It is funded via a levy charged to advertisers.

Its remit includes paid-for online adverts and 'viral' internet adverts but excludes promotions on companies' own websites which are considered to be editorial.

Violent imagery appeared in two of the most complained-about ads other than the DoH fish-hook campaign. An MFI television ad showed a woman slapping her husband while a TV ad for Quorn included a teenager threatening her brother with a fork.

Misleading ads

A Cadbury TV ad for Trident chewing gum drew complaints that it stereotyped and ridiculed black people, while another by Kepak UK showing a woman in her underwear on a rotating sofa attracted objections that it was offensive, sexist and demeaning to women.

Misleading ads accounted for nearly half of all complaints, while offensiveness was the main reason for complaints about broadcast advertising.

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