The ASA has introduced a change in procedure concerning complaints about competitors’ advertising, in an effort to promote faster resolution of disputes and to cut costs.  This change has arisen following the internal process review which the ASA concluded in October.

From 1 December 2011 the ASA will not consider any complaint about advertising raised by a competitor unless the complainant is able to show that it has raised the issue with the advertiser and tried to resolve the dispute.  The ASA states that it will expect to see evidence of a letter, ideally sent by registered post, signed by a person of sufficient seniority, which clearly sets out the advertisement complained of and the nature of the complaint.  Where the advertisement is displayed online a screenshot of the relevant page should be enclosed or a cached copy of the site secured.

The advertiser must then be allowed five working days to provide a substantive response.  If the advertiser has then not opened a substantive dialogue or the parties cannot reach an agreement, a complaint may then be submitted to the ASA, which should attach relevant correspondence.  It is not clear whether, if a substantive dialogue has commenced, a complaint may still be made, and if so, when.  A common sense view should be taken, depending upon how discussions progress.   The ASA will retain discretion to waive this requirement in rare and appropriate cases and will monitor the efficacy of the change in procedure over the coming months.   While many complainants may, as a matter of course, have followed this practice in the past, this requirement will represent a change in practice for some complainants and will be relevant to the tactics of considering a competitor complaint to the ASA.