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Online ads rouse 33% hike in complaints

Watchdog calls for better web regulation

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Complaints about online adverts in the UK rose by 33 per cent in 2006, according to an annual report from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

It found that internet adverts were second only to national press as the most complained about non-broadcast format, and said this reflected a need for tighter regulation of web-based campaigns.

ASA chairman Lord Borrie QC said "the boundaries of regulatory responsibility online are still unclear. Consumers expect the same levels of honesty and truthfulness online as they do in more traditional advertising media".

But the regulatory body faces difficulties in convincing trade bodies to conform to its code of conduct, especially as the ASA's remit only covers paid-for media placements.

Claims made on advertisers' websites, for example, are exempt from the code as they are considered to be editorial content.

Over 2,000 complaints about online ads were lodged with the authority last year, which for the first time overtook the much maligned unwanted post, otherwise known as direct mail which often ends up filed in the bin.

Computers and telecommunications remained unchanged from 2005 as the second most complained about non-broadcast ads by sector.

A compliance team for ASA advised the broadband and ADSL sector to make changes to ads which claimed "up to 8MB" download and upload speeds, which were deemed to be misleading for the consumer.

In the top ten most complained about ads for 2006, Dolce and Gabbana featured three times, including its controversial appearance in the Motorola Razr advert which drew 160 complaints from consumers.

The national press ad was criticised for glamorising violence after one of the fashion designers was shown wielding Motorola's Motorazr V3i mobile phone like a knife, while the other was seen with a suggestive cut across his cheek.

However, the complaint was not upheld by the ASA which said the ad was "highly-stylised" and unlikely to confuse the broadsheet readership it had been aimed at.

Fewer complaints were received overall compared to 2005 with a 14.5 per cent fall in the number of objections.

But the ASA said it still had a very busy year with fewer ads attracting a higher number of complaints with a record high of 12,842.

Although online advertising provoked its highest level of objection to date (nine per cent), television commercials had the lion's share at 38 per cent.

The ASA withdrew or changed some 2,421 adverts as the result of complaints.

Same-sex kisses, religious offence, and violent imagery in ads all provoked angry responses from consumers.

The full ASA report can be viewed here. ®

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