Britain's 10 Most Controversial Ads Of All Time

kfc chicken mouth open controversial britain

Britain’s ban-happy Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is celebrating its 50th birthday. After opening presents (which surely included smelling salts, fainting couches, and pearls for clutching), the watchdog celebrated by publishing a list of the most controversial ads of all time.In 50 years of service, the ASA has received 431,100 complaints—and these ads got the most complaints. Keep in mind, however, that just it just takes one vote to ban an ad, and just because a commercial inspires 1,671 complaints doesn’t mean that it will get pulled.

The results taught us a lot about British sensibilities: like how more people were offended by a KFC ad where women sing while chewing than commercials featuring child abuse, nudity, Photoshopped models, and the Pope shilling condoms. 

10. Child abuse, drugs, and unwanted pregnancy.

Company/Agency: Barnardo's, Bartle Bogle Hegarty

Year: 2008

840 complaints -- not upheld

'Designed to raise awareness of domestic child abuse, this TV campaign featured repeated scenes of violence and drug-taking, which many viewers found upsetting and not suitable for broadcast at times when children were likely to be watching. We did not doubt the distress or offence described by many of the complainants. However, we considered the ads were scheduled appropriately and their aim justified the use of strong imagery.'

9. Predicting the apocolypse, courtesy of CO2 emissions.

Company/Agency: Department of Energy and Climate Change, BBDO

Year: 2010

939 complaints -- upheld in part

'We received objections that this TV and press campaign about climate change was misleading and scaremongering. We 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.'

8. Naked Sophie Dahl shills perfume.

Company/Agency: Yves St Laurent Beaute Ltd

Year: 2000

948 complaints -- upheld

'We agreed with public complaints that a poster ad for Opium perfume featuring a naked Sophie Dahl was sexually suggestive and, in an untargeted medium, likely to cause serious or widespread offence. But we didn't uphold a small number of complaints about the same ad in women's magazines, a textbook example of the importance of targeting when it comes to matters of offence.'

7. When I think about you, I slap myself.

Company/Agency: Volkswagen, DDB London

Year: 2009

1,070 complaints -- upheld in part

'The ASA upheld, in part, against this ad campaign that depicted an engineer fighting multiple versions of himself. We ruled that the level of violence in two of the ads meant they should only be shown after 9 pm.'

6. Nothing's more controversial than championing the right to choose.

Company: Marie Stopes International, icreate4

Year: 2010

1,088 complaints -- not upheld

'A TV ad offering sexual and reproductive healthcare advice, information and services attracted complaints for various reasons, including that it promoted abortion. We felt it was clearly promoting an advice service and wasn't advocating one course of action over another, nor trivialising unplanned pregnancy.'

5. So, the Pope doesn't love condoms?

Company/Agency: British Safety Council

Year: 1995

1,192 complaints -- upheld

'This leaflet featured the Pope wearing a hard hat with the strap line 'The Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt always wear a condom'. Although intended to raise awareness for National Condom Week and promote safer sex, we agreed with complainants that it was offensive to Roman Catholics.'

4. And then the Christians offended the atheists.

Company/Agency: The Christian Party

Year: 2009

1,204 complaints -- not upheld

Complainants objected that the strap line 'There definitely is a God. So join the Christian Party and enjoy your life' was offensive to atheists and couldn't be substantiated. 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. Soccer player (fine, football player) kicks a cat across a field.

Company/Agency: Paddy Power plc, Big Al's Creative Emporium

Year: 2010

1,313 complaints -- not upheld

'Viewers complained that the image of a cat being kicked across a pitch by a blind football player was offensive to blind people and could encourage animal cruelty. We judged the ad was unlikely to encourage or condone cruelty to animals or cause serious or widespread offence.'

2. Worst customer service ever.

Company: Auction World Ltd

Year: 2004

1,360 complaints -- licence revoked

'Shopping channel Auctionworld's consistently poor customer service, misleading guide prices and delays
in delivery of goods resulted in a flurry of complaints, which we passed to Ofcom who issueda fine and revoked their licence to broadcast.'

1. Women Chew KFC with their mouths open. SHAME!

Company: Yum! Restaurants (KFC)

Year: 2005

1,671 complaints -- not upheld

'This TV ad showed call centre workers singing with their mouths full. Many objected it could encourage bad manners amongst children. Although not to everyone's taste, we thought it was unlikely to change children's behaviour or undermine parental authority.'

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