The Most Complained About TV Ads

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Most Complained About Ads

We look at 2015’s “Most Complained About TV Commercials, as published by the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority).

We’re interested in the advertising campaigns that received the most viewer / public complaints that included a TV Advertising element.  For the full list, including the non-tv advertising complaints, click below.

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Just because an ad is in the most complained about list, does it automatically mean that it will be pulled off the air?

Most Complained About Ads - 1. MoneySupermarket.Com

1,513 Complaints – Not upheld

It turns out that a man walking down the street wearing denim shorts and high heels is enough to get the pens waggling in the UK.  The complaints focused on the believe that the content was overly sexual.  The ASA didn’t agree, so the ad is still free to broadcast in the UK. – you’re so MoneySuperMarket!  We have to query how many complains would have been received if the man was a woman?

The Most Complained About Ads - Booking.Com2, 4, and 7! Booking.Com

683, 407, 201 and more… Complaints – Not upheld (any).

Most of us have seen this ad.  You wouldn’t be alone if you believed the script plays on the similarity of the word “booking” to an expletive.  In-fact, you’d be in the same boat as 683 and more people were in 2015.  The ASA felt it was a light hearted play on words that couldn’t be mistaken for the actual swear word.  It shows how much you can ‘get away with’.  Knowing your target market is essential if you want to take risks.  We assume the 683 complainants weren’t likely to book a holiday (publicly) with the advertiser though.  This company takes a majority stake in the “Most Complained About Ads” list – with 3 dedicated entries!

The most complained about TV Ads - PayPal3. Paypal

464  Complaints – Not upheld.

The TV Commercial’s narrative focused on children who worried that their parents hadn’t been shopping for Christmas Presents.  The complainants were worried that the ad revealed the ‘truth’ about Father Christmas.  PayPal did change their ad – and we’d suggest that the ad didn’t actually discuss Father Christmas at all.  Reasonably, children would expect their parents to buy them one or two presents for Christmas – in addition to the bounty from ol’ Saint Nick.  And everyone knows that Santa is real – so where’s the problem?

4. (again)…

5. Protein World – ARE YOU BEACH BODY READY?

380 Complaints – Not upheld.

We weren’t going to mention non-TV ads, but this one made a big splash in 2015.  In short, the campaign was a poster featuring a woman in a bikini with the large un-warming letters splashed across the page.  The ad wasn’t upheld as the copy was previously run through the CAP Copy Advice team (want to be risky, get clearance or have another ad ready to ensure you don’t lose your media booking space when the ad gets pulled).  However, as we did when reviewing GBK’s infamous vegetarian faux pas, we’d suggest thinking about how public groups or people with common opinions may react before publishing.

Most Complained About TV Ads - British Heart Foundation6. British Heart Foundation

219 Complaints – Not upheld.

Charity ads usually present difficult viewing.  However, they’re rarely inaccurate in terms of their real-life relevance.  The complainants reasonably considered the ad to be distressing to both adults and children.  Sadly, heart disease is very much a real-life, every-day problem.  Crucially, the ad had not been scheduled around children’s TV scheduling / programming, so did not intentionally tug on vulnerable heart strings.  Whilst upsetting, the ASA judged it unlikely to cause widespread distress.

7. (again)…

Most Complained About TV Commercials8. Department of Health

181 Complaints  – Not upheld.

Anti-lifestyle messaging always upsets care-free addicts; and nothing moreso than an anti-smoking campaign.  Shock and Awe tactics have long been used by the Government to steep us away from needing expensive healthcare.  People believed the ads were gruesome and therefore “offensive and irresponsible”.  The ASA noted that the ads contained an important health message and judged them not to cause serious or widespread offence.  Whilst we won’t judge lifestyle choices here, we’d suggest these style of ads haven’t really changed over the years.  But we would like to know how effective people think they are.  Maybe a creative change to how much life is with new-found ‘disposable income’ when smokers give up their habit?  That could be an effective and refreshing change, but maybe not powerful enough…

The Most Complained About TV Commercials - NicoCigs Ltd9. NicoCigs Ltd

145 Complains – Not Upheld.

Continuing the theme of unhealthy lifestyle messaging, we now turn to the ever-controversial electronic cigarettes.  People complained that e-cigarettes shouldn’t be allowed to advertise, in similar vain to normal cigarettes.  Furthermore, the complainants believed that the ad was appealing to children.  We’ve looked into this subject ourselves.  In 2014, following a public consultation, advertising for electronic cigarettes became permitted, although subject to some very strict rules.  How you schedule your advertising media is essential, and in this case, NicoCigs’ agency hadn’t positioned them in any programming that was likely to appeal to children.  This doesn’t just mean childrens programming, but also includes family viewing content.  As the ad met the other strict rules and didn’t intent to market to children, the complaints were not upheld.  What the future holds for e-cigs, we don’t know.

The Most Complained about TV Commercials - Omega Pharma Ltd10. Omega Pharma Ltd

136 Complains – Upheld.

Our first upheld complaints!  In the ever controversial area of weight loss and slimming, Omega Pharma, under their brand XLS Medical ran an ad with two women holding a text conversation.  One woman shows off her body in a photo, having lost weight.  The second woman was then unhappy about not being able to fit into her holiday wardrobe.  The TV Commercial and other supporting media ads were banned.  Oops.  In the world of TV Advertising, you cannot denigrate a person, you cannot scaremonger and you cannot make someone feel bad about their image.  Quite how this passed Clearcast approval, we’re not sure.  There are actually 6 individual complaint categories, of which 4 were upheld.  See the Omega Pharma XLS Medical ASA ruling here.  At Concept TV, we have a simple rule when considering advertising content – don’t make people feel bad.  Instead, show them how to feel great.

So out of the 10 most complained about ads, only 1 was upheld!

Just because a lot of people find offence and enough passion to complain, it doesn’t mean that an ad will be pulled off the air.  In some cases the advertisers themselves have gone on to tweak or change the content or positioning of their advertising.  But overall, we’re pleased that not every complained about ad is pulled off their air.

When is a complaint not a complaint?

Something we’d also like to mention is that sometimes competitors will make a ‘public complaint’ about an ad to get it pulled.  This is not a proper or even allowed practice, but it does happen.  We have seen one of our ads questioned in terms of whether the advertiser (our client) could actually supply the product for the price listed.  naturally, our advertiser had an excellent deal – so it was no surprise that it upset the competition.  In our case, we always keep very clear records and liaise with our clients closely to ensure they’re compliant.  There’s a lot more to a TV Advertising agency that simply rolling out the cameras!

Do you want to know how to make an edgy ad that tests the bounaries and gets you noticed?  Or do you need advice on copy compliance? Call Concept TV Now on 0203 002 92 42.  We’re here to help you!