The total number of complaints received across all channels reached 18,369 between 1 March and 23 September, an increase of 30% on the same period in 2010, and double the uplift the advertising watchdog was expecting.
Total complaints are expected to reach 32,000 this year, up from 25,214 in 2010.
The ASA – which took on regulation of non-paid for online marketing communications, including social media and brands’ own sites in March – says the spike has been driven by complaints made about small and medium sized businesses.
SME’s accounted for about 80% of the total in the period, compared with about 66% pre remit extension. The number of complaints made about misleading alternative health sites was notable, the watchdog says, following encouragement from Guardian journalist Ben Goldacre.
Complaints about alternative health sites aside, the type of complaints matched the typical spread for broadcast and non-broadcast ads. Complaints about issues such as price and availability were spread across sectors such as retail, leisure and telecoms.
Guy Parker, chief executive of the ASA, says that the spike in numbers do not mean that the internet is an unregulated “wild west”. He adds that the majority of complaints came in the first few months after the extension and that numbers have flattened since.
“It is dream land if people think that all will be immediately compliant. There is a long tail that don’t know yet know about the changes.”
The watchdog is considering how it can better communicate with SME’s to reduce the number of complaints but it “has to be realistic about what it can achieve”, he adds.
The deal with the increase in complaints, the ASA has increased staff numbers by 10%. It has also amended the way it deals with bulk complaints about the same or similar complaints.
Read our feature on policing online marketing here