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 did any of them offend you personally?
9. Barnardo’s (2008, 840 complaints, not upheld)
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)
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.’
It was ruled that the campaign was guilty of ‘exaggerating the likelihood and impact of extreme weather conditions.’
7. Volkswagen (2009, 1070 complaints, upheld in part)
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)
A 2010 TV advert offering sexual and reproductive healthcare advice attracted complaints for a number of different reasons, but the ASA did not uphold the complaints.
It was ruled the ad ‘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)
A British Safety Council leaflet showed the Pope wearing a hard hat with the line ‘The Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt always wear a condom.’ This caused widespread offence and received 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)
In response to a controversial campaign by the British Humanist Association of bus adverts reading ‘there’s probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life,’ the UK’s Christian Party released rival ads reading, ‘there definitely is a God. So join the Christian Party and enjoy your life.’ This too prompted complaints, many saying it was offensive to atheists and couldn’t be substantiated.
However, 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)
A 2010 advert for betting agency Paddy Power drew 1313 complaints from viewers due to simulated violence against an animal by a blind person. Many people believed that the advert was offensive to blind people and could encourage animal cruelty.
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)
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)
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.