Magazine article Marketing

News Analysis: No Problem

Magazine article Marketing

News Analysis: No Problem

Article excerpt

Despite adding broadcast to its remit, the ASA has not seen the flood of complaints it anticipated.

Last year brought about the biggest change in advertising self-regulation in more than 40 years when the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) widened its remit from print ads, posters and direct mail to include TV and radio.

From 1 November, the ASA and Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) entered into a co-regulatory partnership with Ofcom to handle the regulation of broadcast advertising content. The organisation has been reinvented, complete with a new logo, as a one-stop shop for consumers to register their complaints about advertising.

The move was a rare triumph of self-regulation in the battle against statutory European intervention. But beyond the simplistic facade, there are signs that this one-stop shop message has not been conveyed to everyone it should.

In the past, complaining about ads was not easy. If consumers rang the ASA, they were directed to its website or sent a form to fill in. If the complaint related to a TV or radio ad, they were asked to contact the ITC or The Radio Authority respectively, leading to the suspicion that some queries never made it past the first hurdle.

The new-look ASA, which now takes complaints over the phone, had expected an almost immediate barrage of consumer gripes. However, the ASA's first annual report under its new jurisdiction, which was unveiled this week, does not make for terribly exciting reading.

This is, in part, because the number of complaints it covers takes into account Ofcom's figures for the first 10 months of last year and the ASA's from the last two months, making it impossible to tell if there has been a significant increase in grievances about broadcast ads now that the process has been simplified.

Measured reaction

The ASA's report is not completely inconclusive, though. In 2004, the ASA and Ofcom received a total of 9860 complaints about 2532 broadcast ads, a slight rise on 2003, when 9082 complaints were made about 1642 ads.

However, the ASA says it cannot confirm if this increase is connected to the alteration in the system.

The ASA's director-general, Christopher Graham, admits he expected immediate and significant changes. 'We weren't knocked off our feet with complaints,' he says. 'With the new phone system combined with the internet system, we allowed for 25,000-30,000 complaints. We have had 13,000 about non-broadcast ads; when this is added to the broadcast complaints received both by Ofcom and us, the total is about 23,000.'

The report shows there was no general increase in complaints about advertising.

Indeed, those about non-broadcast ads fell, although the number of these ads changed or withdrawn as a result of ASA action increased by 8% to 1835.

Complaints about taste and decency fell sharply last year, by nearly a quarter (23%). However, those on the grounds of religious offence apply to three of the four most complained about ads across all media, while the medium attracting most disapproval was the national press, removing direct mail from top spot.

Industry gripes

The only other significant increase was in industry complaints, which rose for the first time in two years, to account for 9% of all grievances.

These ads attracted fewer probes, however, with just 24% being formally investigated by the ASA.

Despite the rise in this area, Graham does not think the ASA has become a battleground for petty gripes. …

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