TV adverts using religious imagery attracted the most complaints in 2004, with an ad for mince pies featuring a nativity play topping the list.
More than 800 people objected to the advert for Mr Kipling's mince pies which Christians claimed the scene mocked the birth of Jesus.
A poster echoing Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper for Channel 4 series Shameless also led to 264 complaints, the Advertising Standards Authority said.
Do you think religious imagery should be used in adverts? Do you find adverts using religious imagery offensive?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
The reality of the birth of Christ was probably totally different to the way it is portrayed in the Victorian religious imagery. However the Kipling's adverts were taking commercial advantage of a religious ceremony which is in itself religious discrimination. Whilst I'm not Christian I feel that the advertisers should be censored. Too much of our way of life is degraded in the search for quick profits.
Charles Smith, London, UK
I am British and have lived overseas a couple of times and as an expat lived with many different nationalities. It was a revelation to discover that the most revealing trait that set the Brits aside was our sense of humour particularly in our ability to mock ourselves. This advert was mildly funny, not at all offensive and maybe as long as advertisers know that there is a line they should not cross then using religious imagery is fair game just like anything else!
Lynn, Herts, UK
If every advert that offended anyone's tastes or values were pulled there would be very little advertising at all. Whether or not that is a good thing is a different question. Religion and religious imagery in advertising? Haven't people looked at church billboards recently? Aren't they advertising using religious imagery? If people are so offended then shouldn't all religious advertising be stopped? Get real!
Barbara, Kent, UK
That Mr Kipling's ad was so funny! And if you can't take the mickey out of things and have a laugh, what has the world (already!!) come to?! We don't live in the Middle Ages where we burn witches - although some might think so. I am sure that most religious people can take a good joke about their religion. And it's only very few, most likely in some think tank that come up with politically correct things.
Alex K, London, UK
Let's face it, some people are so devoid of humour and so overly sensitive they'll complain about anything. If they really thought that their religions were robust they would recognise that no amount of parody and satire would have a detrimental effect. As it is, they obviously consider their religions so fragile that they will be adversely affected by a commercial for mince pies.
Trevor, Cambs, UK
If the UK was a heavily religious country, I could understand the furore surrounding this advert. However religion is becoming ever-less predominant in the lives of many UK citizens, so why bother about a bit of humour?
Andy, Leeds, UK
Religion is an outdated concept and has nearly outlived it's usefulness in modern society. In 500 years time Christianity will be as obscure as paganism etc is today. Who would complain about an advert lampooning druids?
Alan, Blackpool, UK
As a non-religious person these adverts do not offend me but I understand why it may offend people who are religious. It seems to me though that Christianity is always the easy target. The Christians who complained about Jerry Springer the Opera were completely ignored whereas a play depicting sexual abuse in a Sikh temple was quickly abandoned due to protest. Either all religions should be open to be made fun of or none at all.
Religion is a serious business and disrespecting peoples' beliefs using religious imagery in advertising means debasing what people most care about.
Carlos Cortiglia, London, United Kingdom
In the new world I think advertisers and their agents should think of the following before they use religious imagery. Were I to use the Islamic religion in this context would I see tomorrow morning? If yes, then fine but if no, then don't do it.
Yet another move by the dictatorship of the minority to ban anything they do not agree with. A mere 800 people objected out of the millions who saw the Mr Kipling's advert, yet we have to lay back and take the censorship of the religious few. You may poke fun at anything I believe in, I will not object. Why do I have to be censored by others?
Barry P, Havant England
I don't find adverts bearing religious imagery offensive, so far the adverts are not creating a mockery of such religion. Religious bodies do advertise their programmes with non-religious imagery, so they should tolerate the advertisement of non-religious programmes with religious imagery. After all, the advertisers, the advertised, the producers and the media all are inclined to religion.
Chigbu Uchendu, Uturu, Nigeria
This use of religious imagery by advertisers reflects the current malaise of society, where money and the importance of material possessions are held in too high esteem. Although society superficially expresses the PC view that every belief is important, it actually ridicules those who do hold deep spiritual beliefs. Yes I do find it offensive but not surprising.
David Bowler, Cramlington
Complaining about anti-religious undertones in an advert for mince pies is absurd, If people want to protect the sanctity of religion then they should campaign on behalf of all the people around the world who are tortured and persecuted for their beliefs: religious or political.
We know it's ok to use imagery and any other method when the butt is Christianity. If any other religion was targeted it would immediately cause an outcry of intolerance and even racism.
Mark Ferguson, Reading UK
I don't care one way or the other if adverts use religious imagery. What I do object to is the notion that if anyone considers that something might be offensive to Muslims or Hindus it gets pulled immediately and without question, whereas if something is known to be offensive to Christians they are told to stop fussing. I don't subscribe to any mainstream faith but this is blatant discrimination.
John B, UK
I am not religious in any way but respect people who are. Nothing should be done at all in a way that may upset people who have those views
Dave S, Warton, Carnforth, Lancs
Religious imagery used in programmes such as Jerry Springer - The Opera and Life of Brian is fine - after all art is there to question religion and we can all make the choice whether to view it or not. However, we do not have the choice or whether to view adverts or not - so advertisers should avoid using offensive imagery.
Nick Mazonowicz, Bydgoszcz, Poland
As long as these sorts of adverts do not offend people of different faiths and God is not used for commercial benefits. Our faith should reside in our hearts and minds, and I believe that with strong convictions, we can surpass all evil temptations. I do agree with a lot people who were offended by Mr Kipling's sense of bad taste.
Saqib Khan, London, UK
This is actually a backhanded compliment to the Christian faithful. It means advertisers know that they are secure in their faith. They know humour and can enjoy it even when their faith is concerned.
RS, Glasgow, UK
Some people were just born to moan and this lot don't do the rest of us Christians any favours! There's religious imagery and there's blasphemy and a vast chasm between - these people should get a life!
I see no reason why the absurd political correctness of the religious right should infringe on the creative rights of the advertiser, or even the humble comedian. Frankly if Christians and their ilk aren't equipped to 'turn the other cheek' then who is!
Adverts are supposed to get our attention and to get us to remember the product - it worked. Some people need to get a life and laugh a bit, there are far more serious things in this world to worry about.
Graeme L, Bristol, UK
I feel very sad and confused the way Christianity, Jesus and God can be mocked in such a trivial way. I find such things as the mockery of Jesus and God physically sickening. It just goes to show how bad, shallow and worthless our society is. Nothing is valued or held sacred these days and I'm sure in the long run society will pay for it.
James, SE Cornwall, UK
So only 800 out of 50 million people in the UK complained? I am amazed that so many people even watch the adverts, let alone care enough to complain about them.
Richard Read, London, UK
I don't feel that it is right to use imagery that mocks or pokes fun at religion in adverts, as this will most certainly offend people. It seems obvious that the Mr Kipling advert was aimed at mocking the birth of Christ, which I feel is uncalled for. However, drastic measures such as the banning of religious imagery are simply not necessary - all that is required is a bit of respect for all religions.
If you don't like it, turn off!
Alex, Aylesbury, UK
I thought the ad was very funny, and not at all offensive...but then I don't see the problem with using things like religion in a humorous way. Why should religious people have some kind of "higher" status than everyone else?
I find religious people offensive, can someone tell me where to complain?
Phil, Newcastle, UK
I'm more offended by those ringtone adverts that get played non-stop with Crazy Frog, Sweety the Chick and Nessie the Dragon.
If I find advertisements offensive I don't buy the product being advertised. However to me it shows a lack of imagination on the part of advertisers if they think the only way to get a message across is to mock something many people hold dear.
Greg Hood, Hertford, UK
Not being religious, it doesn't bother me when advertisers use religious imagery if it is in context of the product, but there is a recent advert for a hair product that uses that hand of God to tell a woman to use the product. Personally it annoys be because it's such a rubbish advert!
Tane Piper, Edinburgh
What is so important about religious beliefs compared to any other belief? It's perfectly fine in my book to mock the beliefs of others, or even to use imagery based on such beliefs for purposes of entertainment. I don't believe in God, but I have to put up with some of my TV license being spent on religious things. To those who complain that they are mortally offended: get a life!
Dominic Donald, Darmstadt, Germany
In contrast to the 264 complainants, I thought the Shameless poster was a superb work of satire, a masterpiece in its own right. Maybe the complainants should look up satire in the dictionary before reaching for their pens and telephones.
John Stephenson, Bolton, UK
I think advertisers get away with far too much and abuse the right to market a product by inappropriate association with elements clearly unrelated to the product. While not perfect religious groups do try to promote value while advertisers just promote sales. Let's stick up for the group that would at least try to improve our quality of life not those that would have us working harder for it.
Ian Davies, London, England
I think people are too sensitive about religion. I'm an American by birth, and I've experienced so many people with judgemental attitudes due to religion in my native country than I can even being to count... but these same people who willingly criticize others are often ridiculously thin skinned about their own beliefs and take even the slightest joke or reference as an offence. People need to relax!
L Holm, Copenhagen, Denmark
I don't see a problem with it, if it is done in line with that particular religions ideals and isn't abusive or defaming in any way. I'm a Buddhist and I can take a joke as much as the next human being, well most of us.
Jennifer Hynes, Plymouth
You have to respect people's religious superstitions. Its no worse than sex or violence but the advertisers shouldn't go out of their way to antagonise any of these groups.
Rex Lester, Chessington
Why should Christians be fair game for public mockery, but not blacks and homosexuals? I don't endorse racism or homophobia, but the principle is the same.
Alex C, Brisbane, Australia
I found the Mr Kipling advert very funny and actually more mocking of school nativity plays than the birth of Jesus. Did many people complain about the "it could be you" hand of God for the lottery?
So mince pie adverts generated adverse comments from 800 concerned people. What happened to the other millions of Christians? It's obviously totally unimportant & uninteresting.
Keith, Chepstow, Wales
Would God care? No, because God made us all, including unoriginal and humourless advertising executives. Poverty, hunger and repression are worth complaining about and those who complained about adverts should perhaps question their faith and look at how they could make more constructive use of their free time. Faith should not be about universal indoctrination reinforced with punishment for the blasphemous. Once you let the superficial world enter into your spiritual world then you have surely lost true faith.
RC Robjohn, UK
Christ used all manner of secular imagery to illustrate his spiritual points: the sower, camels passing through needles, shepherds, salt of the earth, the widow's mite, bread and wine. It would be churlish for the Church to complain now the boot is on the other foot.
Andrew Smith, Epsom, UK
Only if all religions are banned from advertising and removed from print and TV media.
Chris White, Leamington Spa
Adverts are offensive by their nature, so adding a religious twist to it is even tasteless and humiliating. Religious freedom is a basic element of human rights so it would be nice to respect that. But if I give it a second thought I would even go as far as to wipe out all TV adverts.
Mary McCannon, Budapest, Hungary
Speaking as a Christian who goes to church every Sunday, no I don't get offended. These adverts are playing on a time in history. To me they don't mock my religion. I do know however that some Christians do get offended by relatively simple things. At the end of the day everyone is different, regardless of religion and different things affect people differently.
Lianne, Cannock, UK
I don't think such advertisements are meant to be taken seriously, and, if anything, the presentation of an obvious parody of religious imagery is beneficial, as viewers are led to reconsider the original. Two such examples of 'blasphemy' that I've found both provocative and helpful were Monty Python's Life of Brian (which satirises the foolishness of believers rather than satirising Christ) and the Tussaud's nativity scene featuring the Beckhams (could it be a statement was being made about the deification of celebrities?). I don't think God is as easily offended as we imagine, and in any case, Christians shouldn't expect non-Christians to understand why we find such imagery so sacred.
Helen, Cambridge, UK
With all their brainstorming and supposed ingenuity, can't the advertising agencies come up with output that doesn't offend people with religious sensitivity? We have seen that they can be hugely amusing, artistic and creative without causing offence. Those agencies criticized for such offensive advertising should be dropped by their customers.
The images being used are, rightly or wrongly, part of pop culture and are therefore open to "reinterpretation" just like all iconic images. I am not remotely offended, but if I were, I would simply chose not to buy the products on offer. Easy.
These people should get a life and concentrate on what is really important in the world. I cannot believe these people have bothered complaining because a poster looks similar to a religious painting.
Colin A Williams, Huddersfield
If it's done in a tasteful manner why not? Let's see some diversity on TV. It will make a change to selling products and services using sex!
As usual it is open season on us Christians, so I wouldn't be surprised that the ad-men use us as a cheap and easy target. But just dare to mock the beliefs of other religions such as Islam etc and see what happens. This great country of ours was built on a proud Christian tradition, and the decline in the respect for our Lord corresponds exactly with the continuous decline in British society's moral fibre.
Richard I Stone, Lowestoft
It is very effective for companies to use adverts that shock and offend some, as further discussions such as this gives further free publicity to these companies.
I am bewildered as to where people find the time to make a fuss about such unimportant matters. Why aren't these "holy people" using their time to write letters against world poverty, and abuse in the churches and issues like that? As a Catholic I have no problem with religious images being used in a humorous way. I have enough faith in my own religion, and enough common sense to realise that a joke is a joke and therefore should be taken as one and not seriously.
Gwen McGinty, Aberdeen, Scotland
There is no need to use religious imagery to sell something so why do it? Marketing should be innovative and memorable, not crass and disrespectful of people's beliefs.
Karen, Southampton, England
I do not recall this advert at all. However by complaining about the objectors have made sure it has come to my attention, a success for the advertisers it would seem.
Martin, Basingstoke, Hants
I'm a Christian and I know God is pretty robust when it comes to people using religious imagery in this way. There are taste and decency standards though. Why would advertisers think associating an actual birth with cakes would sell more cakes?
John Ferguson, Ballymena, UK
I actually find most religions pretty offensive particularly their views towards gay people. I wouldn't have thought that mocking the birth of Jesus was exactly the end of the world and anyway Mr Kipling does make exceedingly good cakes.
I am sick and tired of a tiny but very vocal minority of religious fanatics complaining about the content of TV programmes and advertising. If these humourless people had their way, TV would end up wall to wall religious programmes, with nothing for the secular 99% of the population to watch.
Rod Devonshire, Sandhurst UK
Frankly, I don't care. If an advert offends me, or I find it distasteful, I protest by not buying the product or doing business with the company concerned. If enough others did the same, companies would soon drop the more controversial adverts - it's business, money talks.
As long as it is tastefully done, it shouldn't offend anyone.
Neil, Glasgow, Scotland
I actually find most religions pretty offensive particularly their views towards gay people. I wouldn't have thought that mocking the birth of
Don't see why not. We worry to much about offending people in this PC obsessed Country.
I don't have a problem with religious imagery being used as long as it isn't blasphemous. It does bother me when religions other than Christianity get much more sympathy. Christianity is our country's religion and we should be loyal to it.
Sam Pritchard, Newbury, UK
Religion is all about faith. If someone's faith is so weak that they can't get over a bit of humour then maybe they ought to question what they actually believe in.
Rich, Coventry, UK
No, they shouldn't. We should respect one another's religion, not use it for profiteering. Also, as a rule of business, you want to encourage custom. Imagery of this kind could offend many potential customers. Deeply religious people may not take kindly to their faith being abused in this way. It may also offend those of other faiths, e.g. a Jew may be offended by a cross, a sign of persecution to them over the centuries. This will alienate potential customers than it brings in.
Karen, London, UK
Advertisements usually portray an ideal far removed from reality to which we may aspire, but ultimately we all know that it's probably fake. So what's the problem with using religious imagery?
Mike Bidgood, Aberdeen, UK
I find religion in general offensive. The less of it on TV the better.
It should be remembered that religious imagery is as much the heritage of the secularist as it is the devout. The religious have no more rights to that heritage and what it is used for than any one else. Having said that there is never a reason to be deliberately and gratuitously insulting.
Chris G, Cambridge, UK
I am not a religious person despite having been raised a Catholic, however I find religious imagery is all too often used inappropriately nowadays. It seems that the old adage there's no such thing as bad publicity rings all too true. The clear lack of imagination on the part of advertisers is obvious by them having to resort to causing offence to sell their products. If nothing is held sacred then we are all degraded. The advertising industry holds women, sexuality, religion, etc up to ridicule for its own petty and tawdry ends. It should come as no surprise that this is the case in an industry populated by those whose only 'God' is money!
David Healy, London UK
As a Christian myself I think most people have to lighten up! There are plenty more things to worry about than this!
Why not? At least it will remind a high percentage of people that Christmas is a religious festivity after all, not just about eating, drinking and buying things.
Richard, London, UK