The Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland has issued its annual report.  According to the report, the ASAI received a total of 1,648 written complaints concerning 1,072 advertisements in 2020. This represents a 12.6% decrease on the number of complaints received in 2019, while the number of advertisements complained about increased by just over 22% compared with 2019. The ASAI says that the decrease in the number of complaints is marginal in the context of the severe economic, social and environmental effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report breaks down the number of complaints by sector: as in 2019, the health and beauty sector attracted the greatest number of complaints (308), followed by telecommunications (201), and leisure (142). In terms of media types, as we also noted last year, digital media represented most complaints.  In 2020, 52% of all complaints concerned digital media.  Just under 10% of those complaints related to influencer marketing advertisements, which were 4% of all complaints received.

The ASAI found that 63 advertisements were in breach of the ASAI’s Code of Standards for Advertising and Marketing Communications.

68% of the complaints made in 2020 argued that an advertisement was misleading, while 12% were made on the basis that an advertisement was offensive. There were also a wide range of other issues covered by the ASAI Code that were raised by members of the public, including concerns about promotional marketing practices, food and non-alcoholic beverages, health & beauty, e-cigarettes, children, alcohol advertising, slimming and gambling.

Highlights of 2020

The ASAI noted that Google is the first corporate member of the European Advertising Standards Alliance and a partner of the ad self-regulatory network. In last year’s report the ASAI highlighted the fact that digital providers were not fully engaged with the advertising self-regulatory system and did not support the ASAI financially, so this is a step forward.

In 2020, the ASAI also continued its ongoing focus on providing information and guidance to the influencer and blogger industry. As part of this, ASAI conducted research around consumer sentiment in this area which revealed just over half (51%) of people in Ireland say they are concerned by a lack of transparency in influencer marketing. With transparency being a significant aspect of the ASAI’s brief in seeking to maintain the highest standards in advertising, this statistic demonstrates the level of consumer concern in a growth marketing area. The concept of transparency is one that the ASAI says that it continues to strongly promote amongst advertisers, and particularly regarding influencer marketing.

With the publication of the General Scheme of the Online Safety & Media Regulation Bill in 2020, the ASAI continued to advance its agenda on the relevant impact and implementation of the amended Audio Visual Services Directive at local level. Strategically, the ASAI considers that it can significantly contribute to a co-regulatory framework with the BAI

In the context of the first national lockdown in mid-March 2020 due to the pandemic, the ASAI reminded advertisers that any claims being made for products and services referring to Covid-19 should be adequately substantiated. The reminder was issued in early April after receiving complaints about a number of advertisements for products and services relating to Covid-19 on the grounds that they were misleading. While the number of complaints was not significant at that time, the ASAI considered that it was vital to remind all advertisers of the need to advertise responsibly and to avoid claims that undermine public health advice or exploit people’s anxieties. Further complaints were received throughout the year but represented a minor percentage across all complaint categories.