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!


TV Commercial Compliance Update – Broadband Price Claims

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The ASA and Ofcom have today announced the results of their research into the clarity of broadband pricing. You can read their press release here.

The current practice, in place since a 2012 ruling, allows a line rental price to appear alongside, but separate from, the ‘headline price’ for broadband.  Any further one-off costs, like set-up fees, may be included in the supers. Similarly the contract length can be included in the supers.

The Advertising Standards Authority

Although the ASA have yet to offer a definitive stance for how pricing should appear in future, the recommendation for now is:

  • line rental should no longer be separated out – up-front and monthly costs should be all-inclusive
  • greater prominence should be given to contract length and post-discount pricing
  • greater prominence should be given to up-front costs

These changes will come into place as of Monday 30th May. For the time being keep your eyes peeled on the ASA website for further recommendations. Clearcast will be working with advertisers and agencies to ensure ads they clear for transmission after 30th May comply with the new recommendations.

How can you find out what rules and regulation could have an affect on your TV Advertising Copy?

Concept TV have specialised over the last 12 years in taking on challenging TV Commercial compliance cases.  We regularly produce in-depth reports that back up advertisers claims, when even their own research have failed to generate the required information.  For instance, we undertook a large case involving HG – a consumer chemicals company.  By carrying out controlled tests on their product based on “in-situ” consumer conditions, we were able to obtain broadcast approval for their Mould Spray, Drain Unblocker and Scale Away products.

If you need advice on how to best present a case to Clearcast, or if you need advice on the claims that you wish to make, call our experts now on 0203 002 92 42.

To read the original article, please see the Clearcast News Update on Broadband Pricing here –


It’s banned TV adverts time..! Take a look at this TOP 10 Banned TV Commercials and discover why they get banned.

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Banned TV Adverts UK

Banned TV Commercials from the UK

As promised at one of our TV Advertising seminars, we’ve found the link to the TOP 10 most controversial UK TV Adverts YouTube video.  We’re not sure why banned TV Adverts so compelling to watch – perhaps its our way of looking at mistakes creative agencies can make.  Or perhaps its the creative industries brazen audacity?

Why do Television Adverts get banned?

Its often a surprise to us when a TV Commercial gets banned after it’s been transmitted.  In the UK, all TV Commercials have to be approved by an organisation called Clearcast.  To some Creative TV Agencies, this can be a problem – especially if you want to make outrageous claims that simply don’t stand up (are their clients really number 1?).  Luckily, at Concept TV, we have put Clearcast approval at the heart of our creative workflow – so we’ve currently never had a TV Commercial outright rejected – and we’ve especially never had one pulled from broadcast by the ASA.

TV Commercials have to follow the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising – administered by the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority).  This is similar to all other forms of advertising which have to follow the CAP Advertising Codes.  In the unlikely event that a TV Commercial is approved and then banned, it will most likely be because a member or members of the public have taken offence to the nature of the content, as opposed to a company not being able to deliver on a specific claim.

5 major reasons that TV Commercials are banned after being broadcast:

  1. Violence – The visual content is violent and shown before the 9:00pm watershed.  People worry that children may be watching and that it will adversely affect their character.
  2. Sex – The visual content or underlying theme is seen as being too sexy for a pre-watershed showing.  Again, people tend to feel that TV Adverts featuring too much ‘sex-appeal’ will corrupt our society.
  3. Scaremongering – Its unusual for a TV Commercial to be approved by Clearcast if it obviously contains an element of scaremongering.  As seen in the top 10 banned tv commercials video above, environmental warnings often make the statement that the world is heading for apocalypse if we keep burning super-mega-watts of electricity on that little red light on the TV…!  Needless to say, you can’t threaten people with detrimental consequences if they do not buy into your proposition!
  4. Making claims that aren’t true – Again, it’s unusual for a TV Commercial to be approved by Clearcast if the advertiser can’t back up their claims.  For instance, you can’t offer a watch for £5 if you don’t have any, or maybe only a couple in stock, when the ones really made available are £100.  At Concept TV Advertising, we work hard to make sure that advertisers can make the claims they need by looking at ways to ensure that all claims can be substantiated.  We’ll also advise on alternative claims that are broadcast compliant but also say what the advertiser wants to say.
  5. Generally offensive – The KFC TV Advert clearly shows people speaking with their mouth full, which worried the public that children would copy those actions.  At Concept TV, we also less fondly remember a TV Advert from the 90’s (we think..) when children sat at a table, banged their knife and fork and demanded “Feed me, Feed me NOW!  Yes, McCains Oven Chips certainly pushed decent society to the edge with that one – even though we don’t think it was actually ever banned!  Not all public complaints are upheld by the ASA – if they were, we wouldn’t have any TV Advertising, the industry would go bankrupt and there would be no Saturday night TV anymore (stop cheering!).  This point has been banned for scaremongering.

How can you avoid having your TV Commercial from being banned from broadcast?

Simple.  Engage Concept TV to handle script development, or at least get us to mediate with Clearcast on your behalf.  When it comes to creating a compelling TV Commercial, we know what we’re doing.  After all, we were one of the first TV Agencies to get a Mould Spray TV Commercial approved in the UK in recent times.  We go the extra mile to make your claims compliant.  Being more than just a bunch of creatives with wild ideas, we make sure that your TV Commercial has broadcast approval at script level – before we even pick up the camera.

We’ve hear of lots of cases where want-to-be TV Advertisers have paid for expensive and impressive TV Commercials that have never seen the light of day – simply because their content was not suitable for broadcast.  We regularly put in the time to refine the communication and develop complex, detailed substantiation that takes even the toughest of our advertisers claims to the screen.

Want to know more about how TV Advertising works, what we can do for you, or perhaps you want us to take a look at your case?  Call us now on 0203 002 92 42 – email – or visit