The Top 10 Most Complained About TV Ads This Century

With the release of the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) annual report, they’ve again included details on last years most complained about 10. There’s plenty of articles floating around the web talking about last year’s complaint but seeing as the most complained about ad received enough complaints to put it at number 3 in the overall top 10 list I thought it might be fun/interesting to look at the rest of the ads that make up the top 10.

I’m not going to link to the ads below because as you can probably guess from the title of this post a large number of people decided that the ads listed below were offensive so although you might not agree with them I don’t want to risk upsetting any of you 🙂

1. Marie Stopes – Are You Late? (2010)     4,688+ complaints
(including 3,600 objections made before broadcast)

This was the first ad ever shown on British television for unplanned pregnancy & abortion advisory services. It was part of a larger campaign by Marie Stopes. As you can imagine the complaints made against this ad covered quite a few reasons, including that it promoted abortion

2. KFC – Zinger Crunch (2005)     1,671 complaints

The second most complained about ad this century does not contain foul language, excessive violence, in fact it doesn’t include any of the usual reasons behind the complaints made against TV ads.  A few of you might remember the KFC ad where a couple of call centre workers singing with their mouths full. The majority of the complaint said it encouraged bad manners. The ASA ruled it was unlikely to prompt bad manners in children and so the complaints were not upheld.

3. Paddy Power – Blind Footballers (2010)     1,313 complaints

This was last year’s most complained about ad with people worried that the ad was both offensive to blind people and could encourage animal cruelty. Even though the ad received over 1,000 complaints the ASA said it was surreal and light-hearted and it decided the advert was unlikely to encourage or condone cruelty to animals or cause serious or widespread offence and so did not uphold the complaints.

4. VW Golf – Clones (2008)     1,066 Complaints

In this ad the car designer has to fight ‘clones’ of himself to get to his car, which was supposed to represent how as a market leader VW only had themselves to beat. Complaints were made saying that is is offensive because the depiction of violence was excessive.

5. Dept. of Energy & Climate – Act on CO2 (2010)     939 Complaints

The story of the increasing amoutns of CO2 in our atmosphere was told as if it was a child’s bedtime story in this ad. The ad ended with the child asking if there was a happy ending after which a vocie over kicks in and says “It’s up to us how the story ends. See what you can do.”

6. Barnardo’s – Child Abuse: Break The Cycle (2007)     840 Complaints

This ad was particularly strong and I actually found it pretty difficult to watch when I first saw it broadcast. It shows the story of a young girl slipping into a life of crime after suffering domestic abuse. Barnardo’s has a reputation for shock tactics but in this case their graphic ad received over 800 complaints. Barnardo’s took the feedback on hand and actually published an apology for any distress caused by the ad, however, they stood by their decision to run the campaign as they felt it was their duty to “ensure the issue of child poverty in this country is no longer neglected and that is the reason we have run such a hard-hitting campaign.”

7. Mr Kipling – Nativity (2004)     806 Complaints

This ad for Mr Kipling Mince pies begins with a woman called Mary in labour and crying out in pain in what appears to be a hospital. It’s only as the camera draws back we learn that she is not in a hospital but is instead is on a stage surrounded by children and being watched by a horrified audience. A woman in the audience turns to a vicar also in the audience and asks in a concerned voice if Mr Kipling has ever directed a Nativity play before. The vicar, who is unfazed by the performance, responds: “No, but he does make exceedingly good cakes.”

After receiving so many complaints the decision was made to withdraw this ad.

8. Dept. of Health – Hooked (2007)     774 Complaints

The Department of Health was trying to highlight the dangers of getting hooked on smoking by showing people with hooks in their mouths. The ASA agreed with the complaints and said that they were likely to frighten people or cause distress.

9. Volkswagen Polo –Singing Dog (2007)     743 Complaints

This ad features a very happy dog ‘singing’ from the front seat of the car, apparently full of ‘Polo confidence’ all is going well so far with everyone smiling at the happy dog, however, the mood changes pretty quickly as the shot quickly changes to the same dog cowering by his owner’s legs, while quietly mumbling the song under its breath.

This image of the dog prompted the RSPCA to launch an investigation into the treatment of the dog as they were concerned of mis-treatment.

10. Pot Noodle – Pot Noodle Horn (2005)     620 Complaints

This ad was supposed to play on the guilt factor behind eating pot noodles and the supposed shame behind eating a Pot Noodle. It starts with a man walking into a bar with a noticeable bulge in his trousers, and his friends accuse him of “having the horn”. The man denies it at first but then admits that he does have the horn, at which point he pulls out a real hunting horn from his trousers and blows it loudly. After a struggle the man owns up and says “OK, I have got the Pot Noodle horn. It’s big, it’s brassy and I’m going to blow it”. Complaints made against this ad included issues that it was embarrassing whilst others thought it unacceptable to use such a blatant sexual reference to sell a food product.

If I’m honest, I think the ASA probably thought they might get some complaints about Pot Noodle’s advertising as they had already stopped the company running the tagline “The slag of all snacks”

As advertisers constantly look for ways to make them and their ads stand out I’m sure that the ASA will have plenty more ads to review, you never know this time next year I might even have to write an update to this list.

Are there any ads that you remember and wonder how they ever made it to air? If so, let me know below.

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