UK's most complained-about adverts: really?

KFC drive-thruAlan Diaz/AP/Press Association Images

The world of advertising has had its horrors. Entire careers have been build on TV shows showcasing the rudest, most graphic, disgusting and violent. However, as the Advertising Standards Authority reveals the most complained-about adverts ever shown in the UK, it appears there are some things we find far more appalling.

So which adverts attracted the most complaints - and why?

1. KFC.

Incredibly an advert in 2005 featuring call centre workers singing with their mouths open and full of food attracted a stunning 1,671 complaints. Apparently parents were concerned it would encourage bad manners in children, but the ASA decided that parents and children would carry on with their usual behaviour rather than copying the advert. The complaint wasn't upheld.


2. Auction World

In 2004 the shopping channel was referred to Ofcom after attracting 1,360 complaints. This wasn't a problem with adverts, but complaints of poor customer service, misleading guide prices and delivery delays. The channel eventually had its licence revoked.

3. Paddy Power

A 2010 advert featuring a cat being kicked by a blind footballer was complained about by 1,313 people. It touched two raw nerves of mocking a disability and animal cruelty. The complaint wasn't upheld, as the ASA said it was unlikely to encourage animal cruelty or cause widespread offence.


4. The Christian Party

In 2009 a poster declaring 'There definitely is a god' was complained about by 1,204 people. The advert was run as a response to a Humanist advert declaring there was no god. The complaint wasn't upheld.

5. British Safety Council

A condom advert featuring the Pope in 1995 attracted 1,192 complaints. He was wearing a hard hat with the line 'The Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt always wear a condom'. It was upheld.

6. Marie Stopes International

An advert offering sexual healthcare advice in 2010 received 1,088 complaints. Many of them were received before the advert aired after a campaign by anti-abortionists. It wasn't upheld.


7. Volkswagen

In 2008 an advert featured an engineer fighting clones of himself, using parts of the car as weapons. It was partially upheld - in that it could only be shown after 9pm.


8. Yves St Laurent Beaute

In 2000 a poster of Sophie Dahl lying down without clothes in order to sell Opium perfume attracted 948 complaints. It was claimed to be a tribute to high art and wittily shot, and was applauded by some feminists, but the complaint was upheld as being sexually suggestive and likely to cause offence.

9. Department of Energy and Climate Change

A campaign about climate change, involving a father reading his daughter a scary fairy tale about the impact of climate change, received 939 complaints, which were upheld in part in 2010. The press adverts had to be withdrawn as parts of them could not be substantiated by science.


10. Barnardo's

Adverts about domestic child abuse in 2008 attracted 840 complaints for showing violence and drug taking - which were not upheld

The art of complaining is certainly not dying. ASA has received 431,000 complaints since it started up 50 years ago, with a record 31,548 in 2011.

Lord Smith of Finsbury, the ASA's chairman, said: "We have to be attuned to changes in society's expectations and attitudes. Where there is growing concern about the glamorisation of violence, or about the impact on children of sexualised images, we need to be prepared to acknowledge these concerns in the way in which we implement our regulatory responsibilities."

10 PHOTOS
Advertising's most ageist ads
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UK's most complained-about adverts: really?

It's not clear how old the Italian Mediterranean woman is at the helm of her elderly convertible. But clearly by using an olive-oil based spread on her ciabatta, she can still drive at a good clip.

The ageism is more subtle here. Imagine, an older lady still able to drive quickly and competently! And actually enjoying the experience. Sure, it's not offensive as some ageist ads, but it's a tad patronising. Welcome to ad-land.

In the 1930s, anyone more than 40 was definitely middle aged and in need of Phyllosan. Fortifies the over 40s was one of the taglines. Phyllosan ads had the job of informing consumers their pills would restore "digestive and metabolic tone strengthening the nerves and energy."

There's an implied sense of threat here too. The grim-faced doctor won't have much time with a 40-year old male who hesitates to buy this "life-changing" medicament. Be responsible; you're officially middle aged. Buckle down.

Here's another ageist piece of marketing. The hugely cash-generative insurance industry makes a lot of its money out of our own insecurities - and this ad is true to type.

But a few wrinkles are part of ageing. It's not necessarily about being worried. How about laughter lines? Not a pitch that wouldn't have gone down well in a client planning meeting, though given the financial crisis we've been through, some lightening up would have been a useful corrective.

However dreary becoming 40-plus might be, imagine how dire it was to be female and 50. Here, Mrs Georgina Weldon is truly verging on old maid-dom. However thanks to Pears soap, the ad claims her skin is like a 17-year-old.


How many 17-year-olds dressed like that, even in the late 19th century? Mrs Georgina Weldon was, in fact a "real life" case study. She was also a well-known litigant and fighter for female conjugal rights. A clever women also known as 'Portia of the Law Courts'.

But Georgina, that hat...

Now roll forward 120 years to this Dove soap (made by Unilever) ad; it caused a lot of chatter in the US, with the authorities even part-banning the ad. The woman here is not caked in make-up or soap. Although there's probably some touching up done, it's remarkably natural-looking.


Message: it's still okay and attractive to seek older people with no clothes. Too radical for some shocked Americans, though.

Yet some older women - even late middle age, even older - remain beautiful, vigorous and attractive, as in this Age Concern ad. But though you can see Age Concern's point, many old people look old because they are old. Not all older women would want to wear just a black satin bra on the front page of a newspaper.

Does it make us think about age or ageism in a different way? Or is it more she looks good considering she's 60-odd? Age Concern's grey boob.

Or how about this Lucozade ad aimed at older men? You might be pushing 80 but you can still pull if you drink sugar-loaded Lucozade. Pretty crude. This ad apparently was originally shot with an older woman flanked by two semi-naked males.


However the editor of FHM didn't think his mag would appreciate the grey-haired older woman - and asked her to be replaced by a man. Ageist and sexist!

This Spar ad is just awful, isn't it? The husband has lost his wine gums (gums). The wife can't find her ball of wool. But a quick trip - or hobble - to Spar and back and everything is okay. Note husband's gummy smile and wife's dowdy get-up.

The first is a neat little bit of clever reverse ageism from Elizabeth Arden. The woman in the picture is not just married (well, divorced) but dating a man younger than her son. She's independent, confident and apparently in control.

And confident enough to admit the current romantic arrangements.
You could criticise it for reviving the cliche of the fast older woman more interested in sex or shock value. A positive image? Sort of. And some way from the overweight bespectacled country bumpkin we started with.

Lastly, an older, grey-haired woman happy in her own skin complete with studded belt, (hand?) knitted top and punk-style tartan trousers. Let's hope Samsung sold a ton more washing machines through this ad. A confident, modern, energetic older woman. A rare find.

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