The ASA’s most complained about ads of 2017: McDonald's, MoneySupermarket, Match.com

Most complained about ASA ads

The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) is the vigilant sheriff ensuring that UK marketers toe the line when it comes to misleading consumers or causing offence across multiple platforms.

Two thirds of complaints submitted to the agency in 2017 were in response to misleading ads, the rest were largely formed by offended people although this dynamic is flipped on its head on TV.

Here are the three most complained about ads of the year in the UK – and the reasons behind the gripes.

It's worth noting that only one of the three ads had any action taken against it.

3. McDonald’s Restaurants ‘Dead father / things in common’ – 255 complaints. No additional investigation

McDonald’s had to pull this UK TV ad after it was accused of using child bereavement to sell fish burgers after it courted complaints from grief support groups.

The ASA ruled: "Complainants objected that this TV ad featuring a young boy asking his mother what he had in common with his deceased father was inappropriate and insensitive because it used bereavement and grief to sell fast food. Some complainants referenced the proximity of the ad being aired around Father’s Day.

"We carefully assessed the complaints to establish whether there were grounds to launch an investigation. However, McDonald’s took a prompt decision to withdraw the ad in response to consumer feedback and on that basis we decided an investigation was not needed."

2. Match.com ‘Lesbian kissing scene’ – 293 complaints: No additional investigation

Next was a same-sex kiss aired on TV from Match.com. Despite it airing several years ago complaints about it persist. It is worth noting that ads featuring such content can often inspire complaints from the wider public.

The ASA said: "Having also considered complaints about this TV ad in 2016, the ASA continued to receive complaints in the first half of 2017. The ad showed a woman getting home from work to her female partner who removed her top and passionately kissed her.

"The ad was initially shown in January 2016 and then again in April. Each time, complainants challenged whether the ad was sexually explicit and inappropriately scheduled. The ASA judged the ad would not cause serious or widespread offence and were satisfied that the scheduling restriction it had been given prevented it being shown in or around dedicated children’s programmes or those with particular appeal to children."

1. Moneysupermarket.com ‘Dance-off’ (featuring female character) – 455 complaints: No additional investigation

MoneySuperMarket has dominated the list for several years ever since Dave emerged in 2015. It's worth noting that there has never been a ruling made about this creative, which has persistently been found to adhere to the rules. It's so dated that the brand is actually well into a new Epic dynamic that is utilising He-Man and Skeletor to comic effect.

Here's what the ASA had to say on these complaints: "A TV ad featuring a character, Dave dressed in suit jacket, denim shorts and high heels, and another character, Colin dressed in a fluorescent jacket and hard hat. They were joined by other men dressed in the same clothes and engaged in a gang dance-off. At the end of the ad a female, who appeared to be the supervisor of the builders, ordered the men back to work before performing her own dance routine. The complaints we received said the ad was offensive and overtly sexual and some people objected the ad could be seen to be homophobic and could encourage hate crimes.

"Having carefully assessed similar complaints about this ad campaign the previous year, the ASA Council did not consider there were grounds for investigation. Although the ad could possibly be seen as distasteful by some, we concluded that, given the overall content and tone, it was unlikely to provoke serious or widespread offence or to be seen as condoning or encouraging harmful discriminatory behaviour in real life."

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.