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Volkswagen Advertising Standards Authority KFC

There definitely is a God: Watch the ASA’s most complained about ads of all time


By Ishbel Macleod, PR and social media consultant

May 29, 2012 | 6 min read

The Advertising Standard’s Authority is turning 50, and has unveiled its top 10 most complained about ads of all time, including ads from KFC, Paddy Power, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and Volkswagen Group.

Rt Hon Lord Smith of Finsbury, ASA chairman, said: “Our top ten most complained about ads of all time certainly reveal what gets the public talking, but even more important is the less glamorous day to day action we take to protect consumers from misleading advertising. Our commitment for the next 50 years will be the same as for the last: to keep UK ads legal, decent, honest and truthful. We’re up for the task.”

Ed Vaizey, minister for culture, communications and creative industries, said: “I congratulate the Advertising Standards Authority as it celebrates its 50th year as the UK’s advertising watchdog. The advertising industry in the UK is world renowned for its creativity and innovation, but also for abiding by the rules that are designed to protect consumers. As an effective and well respected regulator, the ASA plays a crucial role in enabling responsible advertising to flourish.”

The agency also created a list of the most complained about ads of 2011, with the Phones 4 U ad featuring the ‘horror film’ little girl coming top, followed by the Littlewoods Christmas advert. Two Lynx ads and two more Phones 4 U ads, including the ‘winking Jesus’ ad, also featured.

1. Yum Restaurants (UK) Ltd (KFC) (2005)

This ad for the KFC Zinger received 1,671 complaints, but was not banned by the ASA.Complaints flocked in from parents who said that the ad could lead to bad manners in children, as the call centre workers in the ad sing with their mouths full.The ASA said ‘Although not to everyone’s taste, we thought it was unlikely to change children’s behaviour or undermine parental authority.’

2. Auction World Ltd (2004)

1,360 complaints were received about shopping channel Auction World, based on its consistently poor customer service, misleading guide prices and delays in delivery of goods. The ASA passed the complaints to Ofcom, who issued a fine to the channel and revoked its licence to broadcast.

3. Paddy Power plc (2010)

1,313 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. However, it was not banned by the advertising watchdog as it was judged the ad was ‘unlikely to encourage or condone cruelty to animals or cause serious or widespread offence.’

4. The Christian Party (2009)

The strap line ‘There definitely is a God. So join the Christian Party and enjoy your life’ was complained about by 1,204 people, who suggested it was offensive to atheists and couldn’t be substantiated. The ASA said: ‘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.’

5. British Safety Council (1995)

The leaflet featuring the Pope wearing a hard hat with the strap line “The Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt always wear a condom” led to 1,192 complaints. Although the ASA noted that the ad intended to raise awareness for National Condom Week and promote safer sex, it agreed with complainants that it was offensive to Roman Catholics.

6. Marie Stopes International (2010)

A TV ad for Marie Stopes offering sexual and reproductive healthcare advice, information and services attracted 1,088 complaints for various reasons, including that it promoted abortion. Since it was promoting an advice service and wasn’t advocating one course of action over another, nor trivialising unplanned pregnancy, it was not banned.

7. Volkswagen Group Ltd (2008)

The ad of an engineer fighting different versions of himself led to 1,070 complaints.The ASA upheld it in part, ruling that the level of violence in two of the ads meant they should only be shown after 9 pm.

8. Yves St Laurent Beaute Ltd (2000)

A poster ad for Opium perfume featuring a naked Sophie Dahl racked up 948 complaints, with members of the public suggesting it was sexually suggestive, especially when used in an untargeted medium. While the ASA ruled that the ads in poster form were likely to cause serious or widespread offence, it didn’t uphold a small number of complaints about the same ad in women’s magazines, because these were targeted.

9. Department of Energy and Climate Change (2010)

‘Scaremongering’ was a key complaint about this ad highlighting climate change; with others saying that it was misleading.The ASA said it did not agree with the majority of the 939 complaints for the campaign, but did upload complaints about claims in some of the press ads for exaggerating the likelihood and impact of extreme weather conditions.

10.Barnardo’s (2008)

This TV campaign for Barnardo’s, designed to raise awareness of domestic child abuse, featured repeated scenes of violence and drug taking.840 complaints were made, with viewers saying they found the ad upsetting and not suitable for broadcast at times when children were likely to be watching. The ASA said: ‘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.’

Volkswagen Advertising Standards Authority KFC

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