The Most Complained About Adverts Of All Time

We all like to have a good moan from time to time, and sometimes something we’ve seen on TV or even on the streets will raise our heckles or cause us to get on our high horse.

There are many different reasons that things offend us. Sometimes it’s obvious, a grievance that will be shared by many others, whereas other times it’s simply a personal complaint.

Below, listed in reverse order, are nine of the most complained about UK adverts of all time. How many of them do you remember? And more importantly, did any of them offend you personally?

9. Barnardo’s (2008, 840 complaints, not upheld)

10 16 The Most Complained About Adverts Of All Time

A TV advert for Barnardo’s, designed to raise awareness of domestic child abuse, featured scenes of violence and drug taking which 840 viewers lodged a complaint about.

The ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) did not uphold the complaints, ruling that they ‘did not doubt the distress or offence described by many of the complainants, [but] considered the ads were scheduled appropriately and their aim justified the use of strong imagery.’

8. Department of Energy (2010, 939 complaints, upheld in part)

9 14 The Most Complained About Adverts Of All Time

939 people complained that a campaign about climate change was misleading and scaremongering.

The ASA ‘didn’t agree with the majority of the objections, but did uphold complaints about claims in some of the press ads for exaggerating the likelihood and impact of extreme weather conditions.’

7. Volkswagen (2009, 1070 complaints, upheld in part)

7 20 The Most Complained About Adverts Of All Time

A Volkswagen TV advert from 2009 that showed an engineer fighting multiple versions of himself received 1070 complaints due to its high level of violence.

The ASA ruled that ‘the level of violence in two of the ads meant they should only be shown after 9 pm.’

6. Marie Stopes International (2010, 1088 complaints, not upheld)

6 21 The Most Complained About Adverts Of All Time

A 2010 TV advert offering sexual and reproductive healthcare advice attracted complaints for a number of different reasons.

The ASA did not uphold the complaints, ruling that ‘we felt it was clearly promoting an advice service and wasn’t advocating one course of action over another, nor trivialising unplanned pregnancy.’

5. British Safety Council (1995, 1192 complaints, upheld)

5 18 The Most Complained About Adverts Of All Time

A British Safety Council leaflet showed the Pope wearing a hard hat with the line ‘The Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt always wear a condom’ caused widespread offence and 1192 official complaints.

It was intended to raise awareness for National Condom Week and promote safer sex, but the ASA agreed that it was offensive to Roman Catholics and they upheld the complaints.

4. The Christian Party (2009, 1204 complaints, not upheld)

4 20 The Most Complained About Adverts Of All Time

An advert on the side of buses by The Christian Party claimed that ‘there definitely is a God. So join the Christian Party and enjoy your life.’

Many believed the claim was offensive to atheists and couldn’t be substantiated, but the ASA ruled that ‘political party ads are out of our remit, but even if it had been in remit we wouldn’t have banned it because it was clearly a statement of opinion rather than fact.’

3. Paddy Power (2010, 1313 complaints, not upheld)

3 21 The Most Complained About Adverts Of All Time

Unsurprisingly, 1313 viewers complained about a 2010 adverts for Paddy Power which saw a cat being kicked across a pitch by a blind football player.

Many people believed that the advert was offensive to blind people and could encourage animal cruelty, but the ASA ruled that the advert was ‘unlikely to encourage or condone cruelty to animals or cause serious or widespread offence.’

2. Auction World (2004, 1360 complaints, licence revoked)

2 23 The Most Complained About Adverts Of All Time

Shopping channel Auction World caused controversy when many people complained about their ‘consistently poor customer service, misleading guide prices and delays in delivery of goods.’

The ASA passed the issue to Ofcom who issued Auction World with a fine, and also revoked their licence to broadcast.

1. KFC (2005, 1671 complaints, not upheld)

1 20 The Most Complained About Adverts Of All Time

An advert for KFC from 2005 showed call centre workers singing with their mouths full. Unbelievably, a whopping 1671 people complained on the basis that it could ‘encourage bad manners amongst children.’

However the ASA ruled that it was ‘unlikely to change children’s behaviour or undermine parental authority,’ and the complaints were not upheld.