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Complaints Over Ads Reach Record Levels, ASA Says

According to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) annual report, 2011 saw a record number of complaints, mostly due to the fact that last year the watchdog started to review online copywriting claims.

Overall, more than 31,000 complaints were filed last year and those were related to 22,397 different advertisements, which is a 71% increase from the previous year. While previously the regulator only focused on print, TV and radio ads, in March 2011 it extended its scope to include website and social media ads.

Not surprisingly, this resulted in a pile of complaints, with a 282% surge in the number received about online advertising campaigns between 2010 and 2011, rising to 10,123. In total, 4,591 ads were either changed or withdrawn after action from the ASA. The full-year figures show that TV ads are still the most complained about, despite a 20% drop in numbers on an annual basis, with a total of 11,245 complaints filed last year.

An interesting fact that emerged from the statistics is what makes consumers complain. Reactions to misleading non-broadcast advertisements, which include digital, have more than doubled since last year, reaching 14,833. More than 2,200 ads were found to be offensive by consumers, while 984 were regarded as harmful – another area in which numbers have doubled.

The sectors that saw the biggest number in complaints were holidays and travel, where numbers doubled; the retail industry, which saw a hike of 98%; computers and telecoms, which rose 70%; and health and beauty, which increased by 87%.

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