This week, the Advertising Standards Authority released its annual list of the most complained-about adverts.

We look at the reasons ads attract complaints – and what you can do to make sure you stay on the right side of the ASA.

What is the ASA?

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) polices and enforces advertising standards set by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), which sets rules for advertising in the UK.

Any company advertising in the UK, even if not governed by an industry body like the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), needs to abide by the CAP rules. You can read more about what this means in our blog on How to comply with the CAP code.

Every year the ASA/CAP receive thousands of consumer complaints about adverts, offline and online. Looking at these, and the ASA’s approach to them, can help you to produce best practice ads.

What did consumers complain about in 2017?

The most-objected-to ad was for KFC, featuring a dancing chicken. It prompted 755 complaints that it was offensive to vegetarians and vegans, and upsetting to children, as it featured a chicken heading for slaughter.

A Moneysupermarket commercial came in second, with 455 complaints that it was overtly sexual and possibly homophobic.

Third place went to a Unilever campaign for Dove, focused on breastfeeding, which elicited 391 complaints.

The full list of the top 10 complained-about ads, and the reasons for the complaints, is on the ASA website.

Misleading ads more of a problem than offensive ones

The list of ads raises a couple of interesting points:

  1. The ads that receive the most complaints aren’t necessarily the ones that break the rules. Although two of the adverts in question were voluntarily pulled by their companies, none of the complaints were upheld.
  1. 2. While the top 10 ads all prompted complaints that they were offensive, offensive ads actually form a very small part (16%) of the Authority’s total workload. 73% of their cases deal with ads that are ‘misleading’.

The potential to create misleading promotions is arguably more likely to be an issue for regulated and financial services marketers than the potential to cause offence.

How can you avoid complaints and produce winning adverts?

With misleading ads continuing to be – in the words of ASA Chief Executive Guy Parker – ‘the bread and butter of our work’, you need to make sure your promotions don’t have the potential to mislead.

If you’re regulated by the FCA, the need to comply with its fair, clear and not misleading requirements should give you a head start.

You can also draw on behavioural science to help you produce complaint-free ads.

And of course, if you’re regulated, your own stringent compliance processes should make sure that no misleading claims slip through the net.

There are some specific steps you can take to increase your chances of producing compliant ads:

  1. Be 100% accurate. MiFIDII has introduced more stringent requirements for financial promotions, including around accuracy. If you make your financial promotions comply with MiFIDII there’s a good chance the content will meet other standards too. Using a slide library can help to ensure that any data you include is up to date and correct.
  2. Any data around performance – particularly ads that allude to future performance – need the correct risk warnings and disclaimers, displayed with the right prominence.
  3. Language needs to be appropriate to your audience. Again, if you are meeting FCA requirements around suitability, you should be on the right lines. Download our MiFID II requirements and checklist document.
  4. Follow the correct sign-off processes. Compliance approvals are a vital element of financial promotions. If your Compliance team has signed off your promotion, it should hopefully meet ASA/CAP standards too.

Unfortunately, the hoops you need to jump through to get your ads out can slow your ability to get products to market.

Perivan Technology’s 6 proven ways to make your approval process better has tips on making your sign-off processes simultaneously quicker and more robust.

Mandating Compliance approval – perhaps via an automated solution that makes sign-off non-negotiable – can help to ensure your content doesn’t breach regulatory requirements.

We offer a complete solution with a range of self-service, cost effective, compliance and marketing products and services that are uniquely suited to supporting firms.

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