Gay rights supporters have been urged to boycott Heinz products, after the company dropped a mayonnaise advertisement that showed two men kissing.
Campaigners insisted that Heinz had capitulated to a concerted homophobic campaign and that they would be urging supporters to boycott the company's products.
The corporation decided to withdraw the light-hearted Deli Mayo commercial within days of its launch because it was "listening to its consumers".
The Advertising Standards Authority said yesterday that it had received 202 objections from viewers, a high number in such a short time but that total is only a quarter of the complaints that came in for a Volkswagen Polo advertisement that drew accusations of cruelty after it featured a shivering dog outside a car.
The ASA said viewers had complained that the Heinz scene depicting two men giving each other a quick kiss goodbye was "offensive", "inappropriate" and "unsuitable to be seen by children". The jokey commercial depicts a classic morning scene at a family home as the children pick up their sandwiches for school. "Mum", however, has been replaced by a male New York deli worker clad in a chef's hat and apron. As the father of the house grabs his sandwich and bids goodbye with the words "See you tonight, love", the deli worker looks affronted.
"Hey, ain't you forgetting something?" he says as the father returns to give him a peck on the lips, calling after him: "Love you. Come straight home from work, sweet cheeks."
The commercial also caused controversy in the US where the notoriously reactionary Fox News host Bill O'Reilly complained: "I just want mayonnaise, I don't want guys kissing."
A spokesman for the ASA said it has yet to decide whether to investigate if the commercial breached its rules, adding: "Homosexuality in itself is not a breach but they could look at it from the point of view of taste and decency."
Last night Ben Summerskill, the chief executive of the gay rights group Stonewall, urged its supporters to stop buying Heinz products. "We're shocked that an innocuous ad should have been withdrawn in this way.
"Our phones have not stopped ringing with supporters who are deeply upset. I think people are a surprised they have responded so swiftly to what appears, on the face of it, to be organised complaints, a campaign by people who are determined to be outraged whenever there is any reference to homosexuality, however light hearted," he added, pointing out that a recent billboard campaign by Stonewall featuring the words "Some people are gay. Get over it!" had attracted approximately 100 objections in three days in what they believed was another targeted attack. The Heinz advertisement was actually banned from being aired in or around children's programming, because it fell foul of Ofcom's TV ad restrictions relating to products that are high in fat, salt and sugar.
"The biggest irony of all is, by responding to claims it damages children, Heinz has drawn attention that it is actually not allowed to be shown around children's programmes because it is so unhealthy," added Mr Summerskill.
Nigel Dickie, a spokesman for Heinz UK, said the Deli Mayo ad was intended as "a humorous take on a slice of life" but the company had decided to pull it last week, before the ASA complaints, because of "consumer feedback".
Mr Dickie added: "Heinz is a global company and we respect all universal rights. The advertisement was intended to be humorous, not designed to cause offence to anyone. Clearly it failed in its intent to amuse and that is why we took the decision to withdraw it."
He said the company apologised if the short-run campaign, which had been due to run for five weeks, had offended anyone.Reuse content