'Offensive' posters send complaint levels soaring

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Complaints about advertisements soared last year, with posters - up more than double - the biggest culprit.

The Advertising Standards Authority's 1995 annual report, published today, reveals a 124 per cent rise in complaints about hoardings. Although only 28 poster advertisements broke ASA codes, the public "are clearly expressing a level of disquiet about the images that confront them," the report said.

The worst offenders were an advertisement for the film Disclosure, starring Michael Douglas and Demi Moore, which featured the couple apparently having sex while standing up, and a Playboy TV poster proclaiming "Morgasms" - but both were "considered unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence".

Two other campaigns were found to be offensive. One for Hamlet cigars, showing the lottery hand of fate giving the finger to someone smoking a cigar, attracted 251 complaints. While the Club 18-30 posters, featuring notorious slogans including "Girls, can we interest you in a package holiday?" under a picture of a man wearing boxer shorts, received 490 objections.

In all, there were 2,288 complaints about 348 posters, of which 2,030 were from people who had found them offensive.

Complaints about advertisements in all media rose by 32.5 per cent to a record high of 12,804 last year after having remained fairly constant for two years. The ASA said the rise appeared to be mainly the result of increased public awareness of the authority, although it conceded that complaints under decency rules were up from 1,705 in 1994 to 4,402 last year.

The worst advertiser, on volume of complaints, was the British Safety Council, which had 1,765 objections - all upheld - to an advertisement promoting the use of condoms featuring the Pope wearing a hard hat.

Second came Club 18-30,with 490 complaints upheld, and third was the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which attracted 270 complaints for an advert which compared the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer to people who did not support the Wild Mammals Bill.

However, the report claimed standards overall were "extremely high", with 96 per cent of press and 98 per cent of poster advertisements complying with advertising codes.