Software to seek out rule-breaking adverts as more Scots complain

Online adverts placed by Scottish companies are to be trawled by automated software to proactively seek out commercials which break regulations.

This Irn-Bru advert was the most complained-about in the first half of the year.

The automated technology is part of a new strategy to be unveiled next month by the Advertising Standards Authority, which will use the software to identify adverts and social media posts which could potentially be in breach of official standards. They will then be assessed by humans and a decision made as to whether action should be taken.

Chief executive Guy Parker told Scotland on Sunday that Scottish companies and organisations were likely to be specifically targeted under the new, UK-wide strategy, in a bid to redress the balance of a historic lack of engagement with consumers in Scotland.

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Over the past decade, data has shown that people in Scotland are less likely to complain than those living anywhere else in the UK apart from Northern Ireland.

ASA chief executive Guy Parker said the number of complaints made about adverts from Scottish consumers rocketed by more than 40 per cent in the first six months of this year.

Parker said the ASA’s latest figures showed a 43 per cent rise in complaints from Scotland – which was above that of the rest of the UK – but warned that traditionally, the most complaints UK-wide come from “better off, middle class people in London and the southeast of England”.

He said: “I’m pleased about the increase in complaints from Scottish consumers as they have generally been under-represented. [With the new technology] we could potentially be looking at more Scottish companies to redress the balance.”

He added: “I don’t think responsible Scottish companies have anything to fear – on the contrary, they will welcome better online regulation.

“If they are doing the right thing, but others aren’t, then they are at a competitive disadvantage and we want to sort that.”

The new software would monitor social media and online advertising for general breaches of advertising regulation – as well as problems specific to Scotland such as higher postal charges for people living in postcodes in the Highlands and Islands, despite firms advertising that they offer free UK-wide delivery.

The figures for the first six months of this year show that the ASA received 1,954 complaints from people in Scotland between January and June compared to 799 in the same period in 2017.

The most complained-about advert in the first half of the year was Irn-Bru’s “don’t be a can’t” commercial, with the wordplay believed to be referencing a crude swear word – although the complaints were not deemed worthy of being investigated by the ASA.

The latest figures showed that the vast majority – 1,279 – of complaints from Scots said adverts were “misleading”, while the next most common reason for complaint, that an advert was “offensive”, was cited by 426 people.

Parker said: “We want to make more adverts responsible online than we have at the moment. We are looking at how we can responsibly automate something that would flag up things that we would then want humans to review. We want to be in a position by 2023 where we are an organisation that is using this technology in a way that makes adverts more responsible.”