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Paddy Power takes the top spot in ASA's 10 most complained about advertisements in 2014 list


By John McCarthy, Opinion editor

February 19, 2015 | 6 min read

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has published a list of 2014’s most complained about adverts, in a list which hosts the watchdog's three most controversial adverts ever.

The ASA linked the record year of complaints to the rise of social media – and the outrageous retweets and shares that often accompany it. Although this year’s list is topped by offensive ads, the ASA stated that 75 per cent of its banned ads are in breach of making misleading claim

Paddy Power’s Oscar Pistorius ad with 5,525 complaints, took the top spot.

1. Paddy Power plc - 5,525 complaints – Upheld

On the ban, an ASA spokesperson said: "The ASA banned this national press ad that offered incentives to bet on the outcome of Oscar Pistorius’s murder trial. The ad caused serious offence by trivialising the issues surrounding a murder trial, the death of a woman and disability."

2. BV - 1,768 complaints – Not upheld

The ASA said: "This TV and cinema ad prompted complaints that the ad was offensive and encouraged bad language amongst children by using the word "booking" in place of a swear word. The ASA did not uphold the complaints, judging that it was a light hearted play on words that couldn’t be mistaken for an actual swear word."

3. News UK & Ireland Ltd t/a The Sun - 1,711 complaints – Upheld

"An email sent to subscribers of the Sun’s Dream Team fantasy football competition featured a prize draw to win a date with a Page 3 model. Winners were also able to pick their date. The complaints, many of which were submitted as part of a campaign led by, believed the ad was sexist and objectified women."

4. J Sainsbury plc in association with The Royal British Legion - 823 complaints – Not upheld

"Sainsbury’s Christmas TV ad showed a story based on the 1914 Christmas Day truce during the First World War. Most of the complainants objected to the use of an event from the First World War to advertise a supermarket. While acknowledging that some found the ad to be in poor taste, the ASA did not judge the ad to be offensive and in breach of the Code."

5. The Save the Children Fund - 614 complaints – Not upheld

"This TV and video-on-demand ad featured a women giving birth to a baby with the help of a midwife and prompted complaints that the scenes were offensive, distressing and inappropriately scheduled. The ASA did not uphold the complaints and agreed that the ad’s post 9pm scheduling restriction appropriately reduced the risk of younger viewers seeing the ads and causing distress."

6. Waitrose Ltd - 267 complaints – Resolved

"A TV and cinema ad claimed ‘Everyone who works at Waitrose owns Waitrose’ prompted complaints that it was misleading because they understood that some services, like cleaning, were outsourced. When the ASA approached Waitrose with the complainants’ challenges, they agreed to amend the ad. The ASA closed the case because the concerns were resolved without the need for full investigation."

7. Must Have Ltd t/a VIP Electronic Cigarettes -199 complaints - Upheld

"The ASA received complaints that two VIP e-cigarette TV ads glamorised and promoted the use of tobacco products. The ASA did not uphold the complaints about glamourisation, but did consider the ads depicted the products being exhaled in a way that created a strong association with traditional tobacco smoking."

8. TADServices Ltd t/a - 188 complaints – Sector investigation

"The ASA received complaints that the site gave a false impression of being an official government site. The issues raised were used to inform a sector-wide investigation into so-called ‘copycat websites’. The work included commissioning consumer research and taking action across the sector to remove misleading claims, imagery and emblems. It also involved supporting the government awareness campaign #StartAtGOVUK, which warns those looking for official services to start at GOV.UK to avoid misleading websites."

9. Unilever UK Ltd - 183 complaints - Not upheld

"This animated TV and YouTube ad for Flora Buttery showed two children making breakfast in bed for their parents and walking in on their parents ‘wrestling’. The ASA received complaints that the ad was offensive and unsuitable for children to see. While the ASA acknowledged that while the ad was suggestive, it did not contain any sexually graphic or distressing scenes, and so was unlikely to cause undue fear or distress to young viewers."

10. IQ Channels Ltd t/a - 177 complaints – Sector enforcement

"The ASA received complaints that, which offers passport renewal services, misleadingly implied it was a Government site and that its terms and conditions were not clearly available. See 8. TAD Services for action."

Guy Parker, chief executive of the ASA, said: “2014 was the year social media came into its own in making it easier than ever to lodge complaints en masse. While some ads will inevitably split opinion, as the diverse nature of complaints we received shows, last year underlined the importance of our work in cracking down on misleading ads, including copycat websites, that are simply unfair to consumers.”

Earlier this month Heathrow Airport landed in hot water with the ASA after complaints arose it ran "unsubstantiated" claims in ads that presented arguments in favour of expanding the airport.

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