More Brits complained about ads in 2021 than ever before
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.
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.
The second most-complained-about ad of all time from Tesco
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.
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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The ASA says that 20,456 ads were amended or withdrawn as a result of the ASA’s work and that CAP delivered 866,145 pieces of advice and training to businesses on the advertising rules.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.”