The Advertising Standards Authority has once again exposed that what the public view as offensive and misleading is entirely out of step with the regulator’s opinion, with only one of the top 10 most complained about ads from the past 12 months actually being banned.
Moneysupermarket (pictured) had the dubious honour of attracting the most complaints – 1,513 in total – but was given the green light, as were three ads from Booking.com, and others from Paypal, Protein World, British Heart Foundation, Department of Health and Nicocigs. Only Omega Pharma’s slimming product ad was deemed to have broken the code.
And even ASA chief executive Guy Parker conceded that the findings will “no doubt get people talking about whether the ads are or aren’t offensive”, but stressed there are “important issues at stake”.
He added: “Advertisers must take care not to cause serious or widespread offence, but we don’t play a number’s game. And 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.”
1. Moneysupermarket.com – Not upheld
A TV and internet ad featured a man walking down a street and dancing whilst wearing denim shorts and high heeled shoes. The ASA received 1,513 complaints that the ad was offensive. Many complainants thought this was due to the man’s clothing and dance moves and because they believed the content was overtly sexual. While acknowledging that some viewers might have found the ad distasteful, the regulator did not judge the ad to be offensive and in breach of the code.
2. Booking.com BV – Not upheld
This TV and cinema ad prompted 683 complaints that the ad was offensive and encouraged bad language among children by using the word “booking” in place of a swear word. The ASA did not uphold the complaints, judging that it was a light hearted play on words that couldn’t be mistaken for an actual swear word. It also ruled that the ad was unlikely to encourage swearing amongst children; any children that did pick up on the joke were unlikely to have learned bad language through the ad itself.
3. Paypal (UK) – Not upheld
Two children in Paypal’s Christmas ad which appeared on TV and Video-on-Demand (VOD) were worried that their parents hadn’t been shopping for Christmas Presents. Some 464 people complained that the ad revealed the truth about Father Christmas. The watchdog did not uphold the complaints. Independently, Paypal changed the scheduling of its commercial.
4. Booking.com BV – Not upheld
A rerun of the previous ad, 407 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”. Consistent with the previous ruling, the ASA judged that the content of the ad was a light hearted play on words that couldn’t be mistaken for an actual swear word and that the ad did not break the advertising rules.
5. Protein World – Not upheld
Before investigating 380 complaints that a poster featuring a woman in a bikini was offensive, the ASA told Protein World that, due its concerns about a range of health and weight loss claims, the ad should not appear again in its current form. The ASA concluded, however, that the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.
6. British Heart Foundation – Not upheld
The regulator received complaints about a British Heart Foundation TV, VOD and cinema ad which showed a boy sitting in a classroom talking to his dad who had died from a heart attack. Some 219 complainants considered the ad to be distressing for adults and children to see. The ASA noted that the ad had been scheduled to not appear around children’s programming. It also recognised that some people might find the ad upsetting but judged it was unlikely to cause widespread distress.
7. Booking.com BV – Not upheld
Yet another ad for Booking.com, this one showed a story of a couple who met at a hotel. Yet again, the complaints – 201 this time – rolled in over the word “booking” in being substituted in place of a swear word and thought it was offensive. Consistent with its previous decisions, the ASA judged that the content of the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.
8. Department of Health – Not upheld
A TV and VOD ad, which was part of an anti-smoking campaign from Public Health England, showed a man rolling a cigarette, which had blood and flesh inside it. A poster ad also showed a cigarette which contained flesh. The ASA received 181 complaints that the ads were graphic and gruesome and were therefore offensive and irresponsible. While it acknowledged that some people might find the ads unsettling, the regulator noted that they also contained an important health message. It concluded that the ads were unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.
9. Nicocigs Ltd – Not upheld
The ASA received 145 complaints about a TV ad for an electronic cigarette. Many objected that the advertising of e-cigarettes was allowed and many thought the ad was appealing to children. Strict advertising rules for e-cigarettes were introduced in 2014 following a public consultation. It also noted that the ad wasn’t scheduled around programming that was likely to appeal to children and the ad’s style was not appealing to them. On that basis the ASA judged that the ad did not break the advertising rules.
10. Omega Pharma – Upheld
A TV, YouTube and VOD ad for XLS Medical, a slimming aid, featured two women exchanging text messages before heading on holiday. After seeing a photo of her friend who had lost weight, the other woman in the ad was unhappy about not being able to fit into her holiday wardrobe. After 136 complaints, the ad was banned because it presented an irresponsible approach to body image and confidence.