Campaigning adverts under fire

`Political' agenda sparks new wave of complaints to industry watchdog, writes Paul McCann
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The Independent Online
THE NUMBER of complaints from the public about sex, blasphemy and bad language in advertising fell last year to be replaced by organised lobbying groups who mobilised complaints to counter advertisements by their opponents.

The most complained about advertisement last year was by the Gun Control Network, an organisation campaigning to have .22 handguns banned in the aftermath of the Dunblane tragedy. Its poster advertisement showed a grave and the slogan: "A .22 handgun makes the same size hole as a Magnum". That, and a poster featuring former US attorney general Robert Kennedy, who was shot with a .22, received 94 complaints.

The fourth largest number of complaints was also prompted by an advertisement for the Gun Control Network. This time complaints were lodged about a cinema advertisement narrated by Sean Connery which showed a .22 firing into a human-shaped target. These complaints were also rejected.

It emerged at the time that some complaints were received even before the advertisement was screened as pro-shooting organisations prompted their members to complain.

In its annual report released yesterday, the authority revealed that three of the top 10 most complained about advertisements were generated by or made by special interest groups.

The third most complained about advertisement was by the Vegetarian Society and showed pictures of post-operative cancer scars under the slogan "It's much easier to cut out meat". The campaign had been timed to coincide with the publication of a government report which warned that consumption of too much red meat could increase the likelihood of getting cancer.

It attracted complaints both from the public, the Meat and Livestock Commission and from cancer charities who believed it misleadingly implied that vegetarians did not get cancer. The ASA fast-tracked a judgement on the advertisement in October and banned it.

"While large numbers of complaints can indicate the strength of feeling by groups of complainants, they do not necessarily indicate that an advertisement breaks the advertising codes of practice," said an ASA spokesman.

The number of complaints about the portrayal of women fell by 45 per cent last year, but the second most complained about advertisement concerned the portrayal of men. Lee's advertisement for its boot-cut jeans, which showed a woman's stiletto pressing on a naked male rear, attracted complaints and led to claims that so-called "girl power" was creeping into advertising.

More familiar in nature were the 46 complaints against Peugeot's "tattoo" advert which featured a tattoo of a Peugeot 106 on a woman's midriff, 36 about a Gossard bra poster where the model's nipples could be seen and 27 against the fashion chain French Connection for its deliberately provocative F.C.U.K. poster campaign.