Health and beauty ads yield highest number of complaints to standards body

Dubious Covid-19 claims accounted for only ‘minor’ share of complaints to ASAI in 2020

Health and beauty packaging before the branding and claims about product efficacy are added. Photograph: iStock.

Health and beauty packaging before the branding and claims about product efficacy are added. Photograph: iStock.


Health and beauty attracted more complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI) than any other sector last year, generating 308 objections, the industry body said as it published its annual report.

The ASAI, an independent self-regulatory organisation that promotes high standards in marketing, received 1,648 written complaints, down 12.6 per cent on the previous year, with an overall drop in advertising activity during 2020 likely to be responsible.

The complaints that were made related to 1,072 advertisements, up 22 per cent compared with 2019.

After health and beauty, telecommunications was the next most complained about sector, generating 201 complaints, while the leisure sector was next with 142.

More than two-thirds of the complaints received last year were made on the basis that an advertisement was misleading, while 12 per cent were made on the basis the ad was offensive.

Health and beauty was also the most complained about sector in 2019, but in 2018, food and beverages attracted the most complaints, followed by leisure and telecommunications.

The ASAI found that 63 of the 1,072 ads were in breach of its code of standards, down from 105 the previous year. Almost a quarter of the upheld complaints – 15 in total – related to health and beauty ads.

Influencer marketing

Digital media, which is the largest form of advertising by revenue, generated the highest number of complaints, accounting for 871 of the total. Within this figure, there were 70 complaints about marketing by social-media influencers.

During 2020, Google became the first of the Big Tech companies to join the European Advertising Standards Alliance and become part of the industry’s network of self-regulators, which includes the Irish organisation.

ASAI chief executive Orla Twomey welcomed Google’s move, as well as progress made on transparency in influencer marketing and work done throughout the year to mitigate unsubstantiated or misleading claims about Covid-19.

During the first lockdown, the ASAI was prompted by a small number of complaints to remind advertisers that claims made for products and services relating to coronavirus and Covid-19 had to be adequately substantiated, and that claims made should neither undermine public-health advice nor exploit people’s anxieties.

Overall, complaints received throughout 2020 relating to Covid-19 claims represented “a minor percentage” across all categories, it said.