What’s the news and the current trend?

The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has recorded a huge surge in complaints made about companies’ digital marketing communications, with figures exceeding 5,500.

5,531 complaints were recorded about brands’ online marketing communications since March, when the ASA’s remit was extended to cover the area.

The ASA now covers non-paid for online marketing communications under the marketer’s control, including social media such as Facebook, as well as companies’ own websites. A marketing communication is a type of communication for a good, service, opportunity or gift that primarily sets out to sell something. Marketing communications may set out to sell in a myriad of different ways, and may not necessarily include a price or seek an immediate financial transaction. Also included are direct solicitations for donations as part of a company’s own fund-raising activities.

In the seven months since the remit was extended, the total number of complaints received across all channels reached 18,369. This is an increase of 30% on the same period in 2010.

No one business sector was primarily responsible, with blame being spread equally across the retail, leisure and telecoms sectors, amongst others. The type of complaints matched the typical spread for broadcast and non-broadcast adverts, and concerned issues with price and availability. Complaints regarding misleading alternative health sites were also notable.

To deal with the increase in complaints, the ASA has increased staff numbers by 10%.The ASA has commented that people cannot expect all to be immediately compliant, and that many companies do not yet know about the changes.

Online marketing communications are governed by the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (the CAP code). If a marketing communication breaks the Code, the organisation/individual responsible is told to amend or withdraw it. If they do not, the Compliance team will consider the sanctions available to it.

Non-compliance may result in removal of paid-for advertising, adverse publicity as a result of ASA adjudications, denial of access to advertising space, and the withdrawal of recognition and trading privileges, such as discounts. The company in question may also face action for breach of the Consumer Protection Regulations.