The Drum Awards Festival - Extended Deadline

-d -h -min -sec

Banned Ads ASA Social Media

More Brits complained about ads in 2021 than ever before


By John McCarthy, Opinion editor

May 18, 2022 | 4 min read

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) had to process a record 43,325 complaints (about 22,115 cases) in 2021.

Tesco vaccine Santa

The second most-complained-about ad of all time from Tesco

In its annual report published today (Thursday 19), it revealed that online remained the most-complained-about advertising media, making up close to half of all complaints (20,735) but almost two-thirds of cases (14,558). That was up 19% on 2020, although it is worth noting that case numbers (complained-about incidents) remained at the same level.

This was followed by TV, which made up almost half of all complaints (20,425) but only one-fifth of cases (4,802) – as a broadcast media, wrongdoing tends to be cast to a larger audience in sync. TV complaints were up by 44% in 2020 – even if there was a 5% decrease in the number of TV ads complained about.

Topping these complaints and the second most-complained-about ad of all time was Tesco’s uplifting Christmas campaign, which showed Santa wielding a vaccine passport to the disdain of anti-vaxxers and passport skeptics. It took 5,064 complaints. The ad remains live, breaking no rules.

That brings us to influencer marketing, where the body is upping its policing capabilities using artificial intelligence (AI) to grab disappearing stories of “high-risk” influencers. Complaints about influencer posts (4,889) increased by 20% and made up almost quarter of all cases (3,648), a 9% increase.

Video on demand (VOD) saw a 138% increase in complaints and a 22% increase in cases, while paid-for ads on websites, social media and apps were up 39% in complaints and 14% increase in cases. Meanwhile, audio podcast or on demand saw a 54% increase in complaints and a 9% increase in cases. Website, social media or app (own site) were down slightly, as was game advertising (a 38% decrease in complaints and a 37% decrease in cases).

The ASA says that 20,456 ads were amended or withdrawn as a result of the ASA’s work and that CAP delivered 866,145 pieces of advice and training to businesses on the advertising rules.

ASA chief executive Guy Parker said: “Technology is transforming all our lives and as our Annual Report shows it’s also transforming how the ASA regulates misleading, harmful or irresponsible ads. As our world-leading use of AI to help tackle misleading influencer ads demonstrates, we’re harnessing and increasing our use of AI and machine learning (ML) to deliver tech-assisted and proactive regulation.

“It means we’re better able to respond to concerns and ensures we continue to provide a one-stop-shop for advertising complaints for the public and responsible businesses across the UK.”

Banned Ads ASA Social Media

More from Banned Ads

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +