sainsbury's ad

The number of complaints against food & drink advertisers has halved, despite the ASA receiving its highest ever number of overall complaints in 2014.

Food and drink advertising attracted 2,013 complaints last year, down 50% on 2013, although the number of investigations launched (967) crept up by 2%. The number of complaints about alcohol adverts also fell by 51% to 187.

The ASA said the exact reason for the dramatic reduction was unknown, but the amount of “tit for tat” action from rival companies was significantly down following the introduction of the competitor complaints policy. Under the rules introduced in 2011, a competitor must first try to resolve an issue with the advertiser before turning to the ASA.

“There’s been a noticeable difference in the number of competitor complaints we receive,” said an ASA spokesman. “That’s good for the advertising industry, good for us and good for consumers.”

Sainsbury’s controversial Christmas TV advert attracted 800 complaints. Lauded as a masterpiece of cinematography, the four-minute film that recreated the WWI Christmas Day battlefield truce was heavily criticised for its exploitation of war for commercial gains.

The ASA report revealed the number of complaints about the ad led it to implement its new policy for dealing with seasonal and other major event adverts. Under the policy, the ASA can prioritise certain complaints in order to deliver a “timely and relevant decision”. The body delivered its verdict not to uphold the complaints against Sainsbury’s within three weeks of it first airing.

Separately, the report highlighted an unsuccessful appeal to the High Court by Sainsbury’s. The supermarket had asked the court to overrule an ASA decision not to uphold a complaint about Tesco’s price comparison advertising. The case was dismissed in November 2014, which the ASA said was an indication that the court would not “readily interfere with the regulator’s decision-making in this area.

The ASA also used the report to promise to remain vigilant to ensure the new rules around the advertising of e-cigarettes remained “fit for purpose”.