ASA to step up scrutiny of ads with price claims

Chris-SmithThe Advertising Standards Authority is to make price comparison ads a priority this year due to concerns that the recession will lead to an increasing number of misleading claims.

The advertising watchdog says it needs to be “vigilant” on behalf of consumers as supermarkets and utilities fight for consumers with squeezed household budgets. It is encouraging companies to use its copy advice service to avoid bans. 

ASA chairman Lord Smith (pictured), speaking to Marketing Week as the body unveils its annual report, says that comparison claims are a “valid and sensible form of advertising”, especially in a recession, but that advertisers need to make sure they make a fair comparison.”

Lord Smith also says that the recession will lead to the ASA “tightening its belt” as the 0.1% levy on ad spend it charges participating companies will yield less as marketing budgets are cut in the downturn.

“We are able to cope with the year ahead because we have been very prudent this year and we are able to carry some savings forward,” he says. But the ASA will have to cut back on research to ensure the “basic work of adjudications and copy advice doesn’t suffer”.

The annual report reveals the watchdog received a record total of 26,433 complaints concerning 15,566 ads last year, which resulted in 2,475 ads being changed or withdrawn. Within this, complaints about alcohol ads were up 44% last year.

The top three most complained about ads last year were the Barnardo’s domestic child abuse ad, Volkswagen’s “singing dog” ad and an Orangina ad. The first of these was cleared and the latter two not investigated.

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