Multiple complaints about specific sectors
From time to time we receive multiple complaints (sometimes as part of an orchestrated campaign) about a specific sector or group of advertisers. This is something that is happening with increasing regularity since our remit was extended further online to cover marketing communications on companies’ own websites. For example, we are currently working hard to process the complaints we have received about alternative/complementary therapies.
We want to ensure we offer all advertisers and complainants the most efficient and effective service possible. The demand that multiple complaints about specific sectors places on our limited resources means we need to be flexible in our approach and we sometimes deal with these cases in a slightly different way to our standard investigations process. We can adopt a ‘project’ approach which allows us to look at a number of issues under the umbrella of one or two ‘master’ complaints. ASA rulings are applicable to all advertisers so we can use those rulings to bring a particular industry or sector in line with the Advertising Codes.
We don't play a numbers game
We take all complaints we receive seriously, but we can act on just one complaint. We look at whether or not the Advertising Codes have been breached, rather than simply the number of complaints we have received. When we receive a large number of similar complaints that relate to a specific industry or group of advertisers it is more efficient for us to deal with one primary complaint that addresses the majority of concerns raised. We can then communiciate the outcome of that investigation to all advertisers that will be affected by the ruling and advise them and/or the bodies representing them of what action they need to take to comply with the rules.
What does this mean for complainants?
When we take a project approach complainants will not hear from us in the normal way i.e. we will not write back to individual complaints with updates or the outcome of our investigations. But complainants should be assured that we’re acting on their concerns. We will monitor the compliance of affected advertisers and if there are any continuing problems we will take further action. Complainants do not need to contact us again for this to happen.
What does this mean for advertisers?
We may ask for interim changes to be made to deal with the more obvious and serious breaches of the Advertising Codes. We will help by producing guidance for advertisers to help them comply with the rules. Advertisers and marketers should sign up for the Insight newsletter from the Committee of Advertising Practice to ensure they receive up-to-date information on current issues. Where appropriate and possible we will work with the relevant trade body to ensure information is communicated as widely and consistently as possible to affected advertisers.
Seen a problem? What should you do?
If you’ve seen a problem with an advertisement or a particular sector where you think we may already be investigating then please be aware that we don’t need to receive further complaints. Sending us additional complaints on the same topic is most unlikely to alert us to new issues and it can have the unintended consequence of slowing down our work. Any complaints we do receive may not be responded to directly, but may instead be referred to our Compliance team in the event that wider compliance initiatives in the sector are considered necessary.
If you’re not sure whether we are already investigating complaints about the advertiser or sector you are concerned about then please check our website for a list of ongoing investigations in to, for example, alternative/complimentary therapies.