ASA Unilever Cancer Research

Top ten most complained about ads of 2013 - starring Marmite, Irn-Bru and the Home Office


By Ishbel Macleod, PR and social media consultant

May 29, 2014 | 4 min read

The ASA received 31,136 complaints about 18,580 ads in 2013, with three of the most complained about ads of the year being for Unilever products.

As the ASA unveils its 2013 report, we take a look at the top 10 most complained about ads – and see if they were banned.

VIP Electronic Cigarette - "She Wants You"

937 complaints – Upheld in partTwo TV ads and YouTube videos for e-cigarettes, one featuring a man and the other a woman talking directly to camera, prompted complaints that the use of sexual innuendo was offensive because it was inappropriate for children, glamourised smoking and was sexist and degrading.

Unilever (Marmite) - "Marmite Rescue"

738 complaints – Not upheldA TV and online ad campaign set in the style of a fly-on-the-wall documentary, followed ‘rescue officers’ visiting people’s houses looking for neglected jars of Marmite.Viewers objected that the ads trivialised the work of child and animal abuse services and were irresponsible.

Unilever (Flora) - "Wrestling"

513 complaints – Not upheldAn animated TV and online ad for Flora Buttery margarine featured two young siblings who, having prepared breakfast-in-bed for their parents, entered into their bedroom to find them ‘wrestling’.

Home Office - "Go home or face arrest"

251 complaints – Upheld in partAn ad that appeared on the side of vans driven through six London boroughs featured the text “In the UK illegally?”... “GO HOME OR FACE ARREST” and quoted arrest statistics.The ASA ruled that the arrest figures were not properly qualified or presented clearly.

AG Barr (Irn Bru) - "Push Up Bra"

223 complaints – Not upheldA mother embarrassing her son by wearing a push-up bra and pressing his head against her bosom in front of his friends generated complaints that it was offensive, inappropriate, sexist, demeaning to women and unsuitable for children to see.

Unilever (Bertolli) - "Enjoy Life"

201 complaints – Not upheldA TV and YouTube ad for Bertolli spread depicted a young man being left naked and covering his modesty after a group of older women, who were watching him change on the beach, got their dog to steal his towel. Complainants thought the ad condoned sexual harassment and bullying, objectified the man, was inappropriate for children and portrayed the women negatively.

Red Bull - "Titanic"

179 complaints – Not upheldThe central concept of this TV ad was that the captain of the Titanic should have allowed crates of the energy drink, Red Bull, on board as it “gives you wings”.

Reckitt Benckiser (E45) -"You’ll be hooked"

167 complaints – Not upheldWhen a young woman, sat in a darkened room, began talking about being “hooked” on a moisturising product this TV ad provoked an angry response that it made light of, normalised and glamourised drug use.On the back of feedback it received from its customers the advertiser took the decision to withdraw the ad.

Pussy Drinks - "Pure"

159 complaints – Upheld in partPosters and the website for the energy drink generated complaints that the use of the word ‘Pussy’ was a sexually explicit reference and was therefore offensive, degrading to women and unsuitable for children.

Cancer Research - "Cancer, You Prat"

154 complaints – Not upheldThis TV ad featured cancer sufferers and survivors addressing the camera and saying “Cancer, you prat” and “Up yours, Cancer” as well as an X-ray of hand making a ‘v’ sign. Some viewers thought it was offensive as well as being unsuitable for children.
ASA Unilever Cancer Research

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