Online ads ‘most complained about channel’ in 2023

The ASA received 39,034 complaints in 2023, a 16% increase on 2022’s figures, nearly 21,000 of which were about online adverts. 

ASA campaignOnline ads were the most complained about media last year, with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) receiving 20,944 complaints in 2023 for around 17,174 ads. This marks a 14% increase on 2022’s numbers.

TV was the second-most complained about media, with 13,604 complaints for 4,399 ads – a 12% increase. Email overtook outdoor ads in 2023 as the third-most complained about media, with 1,210 complaints against 1,058 ads.

ASA bans Toyota ad in first environmental ruling of its kindIn total, the ASA recorded 39,034 complaints regarding 25,041 adverts last year. Some 27,378 ads were either withdrawn or amended thanks to this effort. This includes ads from betting firm Ladbrokes, which was found to be appealing to children, and an ad from Toyota which broke social responsibility and environment rules

2023 was a busy year for the ASA. Alongside the thousands of complaints the ad watchdog received, the watchdog’s AI-powered Active Ad Monitoring system processed around 3 million ads last year. The ASA projects the system will capture more than 10 million in 2024 across all channels. 

Proactive crackdown

The vast majority (92%) of the 27,378 ads impacted by ASA legislation came from the watchdog’s “proactive” work, according to the ASA and Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) annual report published today (11 April). 

The ASA also ramped up its focus on cracking down on irresponsible vaping advertising targeting under-18s and also began investigating ads that “trivialised” the decision to have cosmetic surgery overseas.

This work is “enabling [the ASA] to remain flexible, adapting quickly to safeguard the interests of consumers and citizens, especially young or vulnerable people, in the rapidly changing digital landscape,” says ASA chair David Currie.

Four TikTok vape ads banned as pressure ramps up on e-cigs brandsThe work around body image, vaping and climate change comes as the ASA moves towards a new strategic positioning. In 2023, the organisation completed its five-year plan ‘More Impact Online’ and launched its new ‘AI-assisted collective ad regulation’ strategy.

The fresh focus will help it move from being a complaints focused organisation to a more proactive one, says Currie. 

Earlier this year, the ASA shared the results of its awareness drive. The watchdog found consumers were twice as likely to trust ads after seeing the ASA’s awareness campaign, with trust in online ads reaching 36% and trust in TV ads hitting 46%.