Why do advertisers get more complaints than the press?

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This is a guest post from Matthew Cain who is leading the work of the independent press review group:

The Advertising Standards Authority published its annual report today. It revealed that the authority received 26433 complaints about 15,556 adverts, an increase of nine per cent on last year.

The ASA receives far more complaints than the Press Complaints Commission – 463% more. Why is this?

1. The difference is long term
The number of complaints to the ASA is up 9% on last year. The number of complaints to the PCC increased by 8%. The differences in the number of complaints has always been there.

2. It’s not because there are more adverts
The figures to prove this can only be assembled at disproportionate cost. But I don’t believe that more adverts are produced each year than number of articles in the UK press. Just look at the volume of advertising in a typical newspaper in proportion to the number of articles (there were 1870 complaints about advertising in the national press).

3. It’s not because the ASA spends more on advertising
The ASA spent £334,595 on advertising last year that is as much as 270 %the amount the PCC spends (the figures aren’t directly comparable in the annual reports so it could be as little as twice as much) which doesn’t account for 462% more complaints.

4. It’s not because there are more grounds for complaint for an advert
The code of standards in advertising is drawn more widely than the PCC code, to include consideration of whether an advert could “cause offence”. However, the PCC’s 4698 complaints includes those that were rejected for not being within the remit of the PCC. Moreover, the PCC suggests it received only around 10,000 enquiries last year so there are substantially fewer people who are considering complaining about the press.

5. We don’t get more upset by bad advertising
The most complained about advert attracted 840 complaints, compared with the 584 complaints received about the most complained about newspaper article. Therefore, we can conclude that newspaper adverts attract greater motivation to complain.

6. It’s not because people accept a different standard from the press
Our tolerance threshold of advertising does not appear to be significantly lower than our tolerance of the press. The Guardian received 22,500 complaints from its readers in 2008 – almost as many complaints about one newspaper as the whole of the advertising industry.

7. Is it because the ASA is more tough?
The ASA’s work last year led to 2475 ads being changed or withdrawn. The PCC doesn’t publish a comparable figure. The ASA issued 772 formal adjudications compared with the PCC’s 45 so the PCC actually adjudicates on comparably more cases and saw a 40% increase in adjudications, compared with a 27% increase for the ASA.

8. It’s not because the PCC is doing a bad job at ruling on its code
There were 49 requests for a review of an ASA ruling to its internal ombudsman with 8 cases upheld. That compares with 52 complaints to the PCC’s charter commissioner with 5 cases upheld.

So why do you think the ASA receives so many more complaints?

Written by Martin Moore

April 29th, 2009 at 3:47 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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