Complaining about TV commercials is a longtime consumer pastime. Now consumers have another whipping post when it comes to ad messaging: the Internet.
The U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority says there was a 300% rise in complaints concerning Internet advertising during 2011-- to just below 10,000. A study says such complaints will soon top those about TV commercials.
In this country, much of the focus in consumer complaints stems from so-called “misleading” advertising. Recently, for example, POM Wonderful – a beverage with pomegranate fruit juice as a key ingredient -- has been claiming health benefits in its advertising. But a Federal Trade Commission administrative law judge ruled the company’s claims were unsubstantiated – and it sued the company. In return, POM came back with an ad campaign -- "FTC v. POM - You be the judge."
Health claims have always been a major issue for U.S. consumers. Ad clutter has probably been less of an issue, specifically because nearly 45% of U.S. TV homes have a DVR device and can skip commercials. (In this regard, the U.K. survey found that TV advertising complaints were down 20% in 2011 -- to 11,245.)
If we have a complaint – at all – with TV commercials, it is that no matter how hard to we try to be precise in our fast-forwarding, there is always some part of TV commercial we see, either at the beginning or the end of a commercial pod.
But commercial avoidance can’t be done to the same degree on the Internet. There’s video that can’t be fast-forwarded at all; there are display ads that your eyes always go to; there’s rich media advertising with complicated animation that can’t be stopped and that blocks whatever we want to read. (That said, we can now multi-task– text, tweet, or whatever – while we wait for a commercial message to do its thing.)
All this meansconsumers worldwide will have an easy mark to complain loudly about Internet advertising clutter because there are no real DVR-like technological controls. The only solution is to move along to other websites, other areas -- until someone develops a controversial app for our smartphones or tablets that might do to that work. Then prepare for another kind of advertising revolution.