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The number of complaints concerning online advertisements has rocketed over the last 12 months as more and more companies use the Net, email and SMS to flog their products and services.

What's more, the UK's advertising watchdog sees no sign of a change to this trend as new technologies come online, according to the Advertising Standards Authority's (ASA) annual report.

Complaints about text message ads rose from 65 in 2002 to 393 last year, while the number of objections about email ads shot up from 17 to 455.

Internet-related ads generated 1,100 complaints - up from 1,015 in 2002 - making this the fifth most complained-about media type last year, behind junk mail, posters, and newspaper and magazine ads.

Although the total number of complaints received by the ASA increased from 13,788 to 14,041 in 2003, the number of complaints about ads from companies in the computer and telecoms sector fell by around 150.

Even so, the tech sector remains the second most complained-about industry sector in the UK, behind only leisure.

Highlighting the challenges facing the ASA, the reports details the case of Tornado Exec Ltd, which texted people urging them to call a premium rate line to collect a £1,000 prize. None of those who called the number and who contacted the ASA has ever received their prize.

The report also highlighted the case of a marketing campaign for the Tom Cruise movie Minority Report, which used "menacing" voicemail containing heavy breathing and screams to promote the film.

The report said: "The increasing popularity of email and SMS marketing campaigns means more work for the ASA. As the number of advertisements produced and distributed in the UK increases with every new technological development, it is inevitable that complaints figures will rise." ®

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