Advertising Standards Authority Annual Report and most complained about ads

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) 2002 Report and Accounts, including the list of the most complained about ads of the year.

The report reveals that the ASA received a record 13,959 complaints about non-broadcast advertisements during the year - a 10.8% increase on 2001. Despite this increase in complaints, the total number of ads complained about - 10,213 - increased only marginally (2.8%) compared with 2001. 13.5% of the advertisements complained about were found to be in breach of the Code, compared with 11.2% in 2001.

The most complained about advertisement of the year was a press ad for the British Heart Foundation that featured a woman with a plastic bag over her head. 315 complaints were received from members of the public who expressed concern that children might copy the image in the advertisement. The ASA Council upheld the complaints.

Other advertisers featuring in the list of the 10 most complained about campaigns include Unilever Bestfoods UK, United International Pictures (UK), McDonalds and Unison. Seven of the ads on the list were thought to be offensive by complainants. Total complaints about offensive ads rose by 24% in comparison to 2001 but these complaints related to just five more advertisements than in 2001 (555 ads, compared with 550) and accounted for 23% of all complaints resolved.

The most complained about advertising medium of the year was posters, where complaints to the ASA rose by 77% (from 1,729 in 2001 to 3,051 in 2002). The dominance of posters in the most complained about campaigns is the primary reason for this increase: the eight posters featured in the list received 1,235 complaints between them. ASA research into poster compliance during the year revealed that just 1% of the posters in the nationwide sample studied breached the Code. Complaints about direct mail fell by 13% in comparison with 2001.

During 2002, the ASA:

Won High Court backing when a US direct-mail advertiser sought Judicial Review of an ASA adjudication. The judge dismissed the application as 'hopeless on the facts'.

Took action to stop misleading health claims made by Tetley Tea.

Tackled advertisers making misleading claims about ads for sports and muscle supplements.

Referred four advertisers who persistently breached the CAP Code to the Office of Fair Trading for legal action.

Handled the first complaint about a 'talking poster'.

Handled a ten-fold increase in complaints about ads sent by text message.

Conducted research into the public's perception of advertising.

Recorded improved scores in regular customer satisfaction surveys.

Worked with Royal Mail to ensure the removal of bulk mailing discounts from three companies targeting UK consumers with misleading mail.

Marked 40 years of effective self-regulation (the ASA was founded in 1962)

The ASA's Director General, Christopher Graham, said that the self-regulatory system had proved itself to be efficient and effective in difficult circumstances: "When an industry is in recession there must be a strong temptation to let the rules go by the board in order to achieve short term gains. Instead, our compliance research featured in the report shows that advertisers overwhelmingly abide by the rules. This report shows that self-regulation works - in tough times as well as good ones."

To view the ASA annual report 2002, click here.