Controversial adverts from the NHS and British Heart Foundation were among most complained about commercials of 2015, raising concerns that health organisations are relying on distressing messages to shock the public.
A Department of Health advert, part of a Public Health England anti-smoking campaign, which showed a cigarette containing flesh prompted 181 complaints. The Advertising Standards Authority rejected complaints that the adverts were too “graphic” and “gruesome” because they contained an “important health message.”
The British Heart Foundation advert also made the annual top ten with 219 complaints. The TV and cinema message showed a boy sitting in a classroom talking to his father who had died from a heart attack was considered distressing. The ASA ruled the effect would not be widespread.
The most complained advert of the year however was MoneySuperMarket.com’s “epic strut” film of a man walking down a street and dancing while wearing denim shorts and high-heeled shoes.
More than 1,500 viewers complained, saying the man's clothing and dance moves were “overtly sexual”. Again the complaints were not upheld.
However a controversial Protein World poster campaign showing a woman in a bikini promoting a weight loss collection, the fifth most complained about ad, was censured, due to concerns about a range of health and weight loss claims.
Guy Parker, ASA Chief Executive, said “Our Top 10 for 2015 will no doubt get people talking about whether the ads are or aren’t offensive, but there are important issues at stake here. Advertisers must take care not to cause serious or widespread offence, but we don’t play a number’s game.”
Parker added: “While matters of offence can grab the headlines, the bulk of our work is the less glamorous task of tackling misleading advertising. That’s why we’re taking a more proactive approach to address the issues which affect consumers the most before complaints need to be made.”
Top 10 most complained about adverts in 2015 - Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)
* MoneySuperMarket.com - 1,513 complaints, not upheld. Viewers complained that the TV and internet ad featuring a man dancing in high heels and denim shorts was offensive due to its “overtly sexual content”.
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* Booking.com - 683 complaints, not upheld. This TV and cinema ad prompted complaints that the ad was offensive and encouraged bad language amongst children by using the word “booking” in place of a swear word. The ASA ruled it was a light-hearted play on words.
* PayPal (UK) - 464 complaints, not upheld. Viewers were concerned that the TV advert, which shows two children worried that their parents have not bought them Christmas presents, would cast doubt over Santa's existence.
* Booking.com - 407 complaints, not upheld. Complainants found this TV ad featuring a man sitting on a boat before jumping off and swimming ashore offensive due to its use of the word “booking”. The ASA ruled as before.
* Protein World - 380 complaints, not upheld. The ASA told Protein World that their posters asking people if they were “beach body ready” could not appear again in their current form, but ultimately found the campaign was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.
* British Heart Foundation - 219 complaints, not upheld. The TV and cinema ad showing a boy sitting in a classroom talking to his father who had died from a heart attack was considered distressing, but the ASA ruled the effect would not be widespread.
* Booking.com - 201 complaints, not upheld. The TV ad showed a story of a couple who met at a hotel and involved wordplay around the word “booking”. The ASA ruled as before.
* Department of Health - 181 complaints, not upheld. Part of a Public Health England anti-smoking campaign, the “graphic” and “gruesome” ads showed a cigarette which contained flesh, but the ASA found they contained an “important health message”.
* Nicocigs - 145 complaints, not upheld. A TV ad for an electronic cigarette was criticised for potentially appealing to children, however the ASA noted the ad was not scheduled around programmes that would appeal to children and was not in a style that would appeal to them.
* Omega Pharma - 136 complaints, upheld. Two women were seen exchanging texts comparing their bodies before heading on holiday in this TV and YouTube ad. The ASA banned it for presenting “an irresponsible approach to body image and confidence”.
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