With the glut of advertising targeted at consumers every day, marketers often attempt to be controversial — it can benefit in earning attention and buzz, but risks alienating or offending some viewers.
Each year the UK’s advertising watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), reveals which ads sparked the most complaints. This year’s list is a mixed bunch, featuring well-known supermarkets, a bookmaker/troublemaker, and a charity, among other brands.
Not all were investigated on the grounds of offence — the majority of complaints the ASA receives are in relation to misleading claims made by the advertiser. If some of the complaint numbers seem a little low, that’s because the ASA recently began to place a hold on taking incoming complaints once it has identified a big, controversial issue.
10. Passport-UK.co.uk (177 complaints) -- The passport renewal services company misleadingly implied it was a government website, and its terms and conditions were not clearly visible.
9. Flora Buttery (183 complaints) -- Viewers complained this TV and YouTube ad was offensive and unsuitable for children because it depicted two children walking in on their parents 'wrestling.' The ASA did not uphold the complaints, saying it was unlikely to cause undue fear or distress.
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7. VIP Electronic Cigarettes (199 complaints) -- This was the first ever e-cigarette ad to show someone using the product on TV in the UK. The ASA said the ad depicted too much of a strong association with traditional tobacco smoking.
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6. Waitrose (267 complaints) -- Viewers complained the 'Everyone who works at Waitrose owns Waitrose' claim in this ad was misleading because some services, such as cleaning, are outsourced. Waitrose amended the ad.
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5. Save the Children (614 complaints) -- Viewers complained this ad, featuring a real-life birth, was offensive, distressing and inappropriately scheduled. But the ASA said the ad's post-9pm scheduling restriction reduced the chance of younger viewers seeing it and becoming distressed.
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4. Sainsbury's (823 complaints) -- Viewers complained the supermarket was using an event from the First World War (the 1914 Christmas Day truce) to advertise its brand. The ASA acknowledged some may find the spot in poor taste, but added that it was not offensive.
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3. The Sun (1,711 complaints) -- An email sent to subscribers of The Sun's Dream Team fantasy football competition featured a competition to win a date with a Page 3 model. It led to an online campaign, led by SumOfUs.org, calling on the newspaper to be reprimanded because the prize draw was 'sexist and objectified women.' The ASA upheld the complaints.
2. Booking.com (1,768 complaints) -- Viewers complained this TV and cinema ad could encourage bad language among children because it substituted a swear with the word 'booking.' But the ASA noted that any children that did pick up on the joke were unlikely to have first learnt the swear word via the ad itself.
1. Paddy Power (5,525 complaints) -- The bookmaker pushed its own questionable boundaries of taste over the limit in March with this newspaper ad that offered to refund customers if double-amputee Paralympian sprinter Oscar Pistorius was found not guilty of the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. The ASA said the campaign went further than 'simply being in poor taste' and had 'brought advertising into disrepute.'
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