It’s generally a point of pride to be the best at something, unless you’re the best at being the most annoying ad medium — a crown the Internet is set to seize off the trite curlicued head of television.
The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority, which is responsible for investigating and acting on complaints about ad content, notes a 25% year-over-year increase on the total number of complaints about UK advertising overall in 2011. But complaints about digital campaigns that same year grew 282% alone, totaling over 10,000 out of what was already a record of 31,458 gripes. The number of consumers also leaped dramatically, to 300% year-over-year (totaling 9,295).
TV — traditionally the most complained-about medium — enjoyed a 20% decline in complaints last year, totaling 11,245 for 5,556 commercials.
The ASA attributes the internet ad complaint surge with its decision to include marketing messages on media owners’ own websites as fair game for investigation. Soft drink makers and food brands were evidently big offenders.
Reasons for complaint are generally the perceived misleading nature of the ad. In non-broadcast media (including the Internet) this category of complaints doubled to 14,833, compared with a drop of 9% in the total number of complaints about misleading TV and radio ads.
The most offensive sectors included holidays and travel (double the complaint figures), retail (rising 98% and becoming the second most complained-about sector), computers and telecoms (a 70% rise) and health and beauty (87%).
But a more significant area of concern for the ASA is the doubling of complaints for ads perceived as “harmful”. Numbers in non-broadcast advertising rose to 984, and doubled to 2,154 in broadcast media.