Advertising watchdog reports big rise in complaints about charity ads

In its annual report, the Advertising Standards Authority says complaints against non-commercial advertising - most of which was produced by charities - rose by 16 per cent in 2014

Advertising Standards Authority
Advertising Standards Authority

There has been a 16 per cent rise in the number of complaints against non-commercial advertising, the vast majority of which is produced by charities, according to the advertising watchdog.

The Advertising Standards Authority's annual report, published today, shows that the non-commercial sector, which is made up of charities and not-for-profit organisations including government departments, received 2,466 complaints about 933 adverts in 2014 compared with 2,127 complaints about 922 adverts in the previous year.

The non-commercial sector was the fifth most complained-about sector in 2014. Leisure, which comprises all entertainment services such as films, DVDs, computer games and gambling, continues to be the most complained about sector with 4,820 complaints.

In 2014 the ASA received 37,073 complaints overall, a rise of 19 per cent from 2013, although relating to slightly fewer individual adverts.

The ASA attributed the increase in the complaints received to a handful of adverts that prompted high levels of complaints.

For example betting firm Paddy Power’s Oscar Pistorius advert that invited people to bet on the outcome of the athlete’s murder trial and offered "money back if he walks". It was the most complained-about in 2014 by far, attracting 5,525 complaints – the most ever received by the regulator – and was banned.

As previously reported, a list published in February by the ASA showed that two TV advertisements connected with charities were among the 10 most complained-about adverts in 2014. The Christmas advert from the supermarket chain Sainsbury’s, run in association with the Royal British Legion, was the fourth most complained-about advert last year, while a Save the Children advert, featuring a woman giving birth and in which the baby initially appears to have died, was in fifth place.

The rise in the numbers of complaints also reflects the rise of social media, which makes it easier members of the public to voice and coordinate their concerns about ads, the ASA said. 

For example, many of the complaints about the Paddy Power advert were coordinated through the online petition site

In 2014, the internet overtook television for the first time as the most complained-about medium with 13,477 complaints about 10,202 ads, an increase of 35 per cent from 2013. The number of TV-related complaints remained high at 11,926, although it had dropped by 10 per cent compared with 2013.

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