Top 10 most complained about ads from 2017

Today we have unveiled the UK’s top ten most complained about ads of 2017.

Among a total of 29,997 complaints received, today’s Top 10 sets out the ads that provoked the greatest number of individual complaints. The creative approaches and imagery employed in the ads are varied, ranging from a fictional Hollywood starlet using her air freshener after going to the loo to a chicken dancing to rap music. But all the ads on 2017’s list had one common thread – they were all challenged on the grounds of offence.

Today’s announcement reveals:

  • KFC’s ad featuring a dancing chicken received 755 complaints, landing at the top of the list. KFC was also on the top of 2005’s list after they received 1,671 complaints for their Zinger Crunch Salad ad. That ad remained the most complained about ad of all time until 2014.
  • All ten ads received multiple complaints about being offensive. Whilst these ads generated strong views from many people, the majority of the work we do involves complaints that ads are misleading. Misleadingness was the issue in 73% of our cases in 2017, but misleading cases are much less likely to attract multiple complaints. This is a pattern we have observed since we began compiling our annual Top 10 lists.
  • While many of these ad campaigns were seen across a range of media – for example social media, magazines, and companies’ own websites – television ads garnered the most complaints, demonstrating the continuing effectiveness of the medium at hitting mass audiences.
  • Two of the ads are from campaigns that also featured in 2016’s Top Ten list, meaning these campaigns have continued to court controversy over two years (Match.com and Maltesers). One of the campaigns has been on the list for three years in a row (Moneysupermarket.com).
  • In response to complaints reported in the media, two ads were quickly removed by the advertisers (Dove and McDonald’s) without the need for further ASA action.
  • The ASA decided each of the remaining eight ads had not crossed the line on offensiveness, so the complaints were not upheld.

The decision of whether an ad is likely to cause offence is made by the 12 members of the ASA Council. They vote as a jury to decide whether to uphold complaints against the standard of causing ‘serious or widespread offence’. When making that judgement, the ASA considers several factors: the audience likely to see the ad, the context in which the ad appears, and prevailing societal standards. The ASA also commissions research into the public’s attitudes to and understanding of certain ad themes to help inform the decisions it makes and where the line is drawn.

ASA Chief Executive Guy Parker said:

“Tackling misleading ads continues to be the bread and butter of our work, but 2017 again showed that it is ads that have the potential to offend that attract the highest numbers of complaints. But multiple complaints don’t necessarily mean that an ad has fallen on the wrong side of the line: we look carefully at the audience, the context and prevailing societal standards informed by public research before we decide.”

2017's most complained about ads are ...

 

KFC advert

 

1. Kentucky Fried Chicken (Great Britain) Ltd

755 Complaints - Not upheld

This year, KFC’s ad, featuring a chicken dancing to a rap soundtrack, received complaints that it was disrespectful to chickens and distressing for vegetarians, vegans and children and that it depicted a chicken who was heading for slaughter. We ruled it was unlikely that the ad would cause distress or serious or widespread offence as there were no explicit references to animal slaughter.

 

Moneysupermaket.com advert

 

2. Moneysupermarket.com Ltd

455 Complaints - Not upheld

This Moneysupermarket.com ad campaign also featured in the ASA’s Top Ten list for 2015 and 2016. Like many of the ads in the same campaign, 2017’s ad re-featured the two #epicsquads – the strutters and the builders – and a new female character.

Many found the ad to be offensive on the grounds that it was overtly sexual and possibly homophobic. We thought the character’s movements would generally be seen as dance moves and not in a sexual context. We also thought most viewers would recognise the ad’s intended take on humour. We ruled it was unlikely to condone or encourage harmful discriminatory behaviour. 

 

Dove advert

 

3. Unilever UK Ltd (Dove)

391 Complaints - Not investigated; ads removed

Dove produced a series of ads that contained statistics and opinions about breastfeeding in public. The ads were featured across magazines, social media, and Dove’s own website. Many criticised the language, such as “put them away”, as it might encourage criticism of breastfeeding. Some were also concerned that the ads might encourage neglecting crying babies. After listening to the public, Dove issued an apology and subsequently pulled the ads and amended their website.

 

Match.com ad

 

4. Match.com International Ltd

293 Complaints - Not upheld

Match.com’s ad, starring a lesbian couple kissing passionately, appears again in our list of most complained about ads. We received similar complaints last year, when it was number three on our list, about whether the ad was too sexually explicit for children to see. We ruled then that the ad did not cross the line. Over the two years, the ad has attracted almost 1,200 complaints.

 

McDonalds advert

 

5. McDonald's Restaurants Ltd

256 Complaints - Not investigated; ads removed

McDonald’s produced a TV ad featuring a boy and his mother talking about his dead father. From the conversation, the boy became visibly upset as he found few similarities between him and the father that his mother described. Ultimately, he found comfort when she told him that both he and his father loved McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish burger. The ad attracted criticism that it was trivialising grief, was likely to cause distress to those who have experienced a close family death and was distasteful to compare an emotive theme to a fast food promotion. The fast food chain issued an apology and pulled the ads.

 

V.I.Poo advert

 

6. RB UK Commercial Ltd (V.I.Poo)

207 complaints - Not upheld

A fictional Hollywood starlet shares her best kept secret on how to maintain good toilet etiquette – by using the V.I.Poo spray, an air freshener. Many people found the discussion of going to the toilet unsavoury. We ruled that the ad was a light-hearted way of introducing the product and we didn’t consider its reference to the “devil’s dumplings” likely to break our rules on offence.

 

Curry's advert

 

7. DSG Retail Ltd (Currys PC World)

131 Complaints - Not upheld

This was a TV ad about spending Christmas in front of the TV. The Currys PC World ad showed a set of parents telling their children that they would like to celebrate Christmas “traditionally” this year by sitting by the fire, singing carols and having long conversations. The mother then laughed at the visibly upset children and explained it was a joke. She led the family to the next room to show them a new Oleg TV that her employer, Currys PC World, had allowed her to bring home and test. Complainants believed the ad was offensive because it promoted materialism and equated Christmas with watching TV instead of Christianity.

We thought the ad was light-hearted and was meant to be humorous. We understood the allusions to consumerism might be perceived to be in bad taste by some, but considered it was unlikely to cause serious offence. The ad did not ridicule or denigrate Christians or Christianity, so was unlikely to offend on those grounds.

 

o2 advert

 

8. Telefonica Ltd (O2)

125 Complaints - Not upheld

O2’s ad about free screen replacements stirred complaints when it featured two men kissing and breaking one of the couple’s phone screens when he was pressed onto a table by the other man. Many felt the scene was too sexually explicit and scheduled inappropriately at times when children were likely to be watching. Some also felt the portrayal of a same-sex relationship was offensive to their religious beliefs.

We noted that the scene in question was brief and did not contain any graphic or overly sexual imagery. We ruled that it did not require a scheduling restriction and the depiction of a gay couple would not cause serious or widespread offence.

 

Macmillan advert

 

9. Macmillan Cancer Support

116 Complaints - Not upheld

A TV ad for Macmillan Cancer Support included fast-moving scenes of a father talking to his daughter, receiving chemotherapy, vomiting in a sink, sitting slumped in a bath, and crying in a car before being comforted by a nurse. People complained that the imagery was overly graphic and distressing to viewers. Though we understood some of the scenes, particularly the one in which the man vomited, were distressing to some viewers, we believed they served to illustrate the reality of living with cancer. The storyline of the ad and the service that Macmillan Cancer Support was advertising provided context. We believed it addressed the serious nature of the illness appropriately. Furthermore, scheduling restrictions meant it wouldn’t be shown around children’s programmes.

 

Maltesers advert

 

10. Mars Chocolate UK Ltd (Maltesers)

92 Complaints - Not upheld

And finally, Maltesers appears in ASA’s top 10 list for a second year.

Many continued to find the featured woman, who described having a spasm during a romantic encounter with her boyfriend, to be offensive and overly sexual. Some also felt it was offensive to portray the woman, who was in a wheelchair, in this manner.

The ad had already been given a post-9pm scheduling restriction, which we considered sufficient as most viewers are aware that advertising content after 9pm might include more adult themes. In instances when the ad was seen earlier in the day, the ad was seen around adult-themed programmes, such as Made in Chelsea and The Inbetweeners, and was unlikely to be considered to have been inappropriately scheduled.

We found the women’s conversation to be light-hearted and didn’t think the allusion to the woman’s romantic encounter would cause serious or widespread offence. On the matter of portraying the woman in a wheelchair in this manner, we believed the ad was championing diversity and did not think that it denigrated or degraded those with disabilities.


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