The Magazine's review of advertising
A record number of adverts were complained about in 2006, the Advertising Standards Authority has said. The subjects which annoyed people, including the portrayal of same-sex kisses, religion and knives, reveals something of modern day concerns.
Advertising complaints can be an interesting barometer of public sensibilities. In the 1970s, an ASA report from the time said, it was "sex depravity, pornography and general sleaziness" which offended. Nowadays, even with advertising which is often far more explicit than 1970s standards, the range of subjects which offends people has changed somewhat.
Here are the top 10 adverts of 2006 by volume of complaints and the ASA's decision on them.
1. GAY POLICE ASSOCIATION - 553 COMPLAINTS
This advert was the most complained about in 2006. It was a national press ad which pictured a Bible and a claim from the Gay Police Association of a link between homophobic attacks and religious motivation. Several Christian groups complained about the advert, saying it was offensive to them and discriminatory in tone.
The ASA upheld the complaints, saying that it was indeed offensive, was misleading in its suggestion that all incidents involved physical injury and in statistical claims which were never proved to the ASA.
The most complained about advert in 2005 was by KFC and featured people in a call centre singing with their mouths full. It received more than three times as many complaints.
2. HM REVENUE AND CUSTOMS - 271 COMPLAINTS
This was also a press advert, and depicted what seemed to be a self-employed plumber evading tax by hiding under the kitchen sink. This offended many self-employed people - and plumbers in particular - who said the advert made them look like tax evaders.
A spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses said the advert "tars all of the UK's 2.72 million self-employed people with the same brush". HM Revenue and Customs apologised and amended the advert after the complaints, but the ASA concluded that most people would not actually have drawn the unfair conclusion about the self-employed.
Complaints not upheld
3. DOLCE & GABBANA - 166 COMPLAINTS
If it was depravity that offended in the 1970s, one new concern from 2006 was the glamorisation of knives. This D&G advert, which again appeared in the press rather than on television, appeared opposite a news article about a knife crime.
D&G protested at the complaints, saying that the ads were "highly stylised" and inspired by well-known Napoleonic paintings. But the ASA held them to be "socially irresponsible and offensive".
4. MOTOROLA - 160 COMPLAINTS
This is more of the same theme - and another appearance for D&G whose joint advert with Motorola, complainants said, "condoned knife-related violence" and "glamorised sexual violence". Motorola's defence was that it was highly stylised and clearly a pun on the tagline 'The cutting edge of technology', and that it did not glamorise violence. In this case the ASA agreed, saying that most newspaper readers would appreciate the ad's intention.
Complaints not upheld
5. CARPHONE WAREHOUSE - 145 COMPLAINTS
The familiar Carphone Warehouse adverts riled customers and competitors, particularly claims that its service would be "free forever". The ASA agreed that the advert was misleading and that "the availability of the service was insufficiently explained".
6. FRENCH CONNECTION - 127 COMPLAINTS
French Connection - a company which thanks to its FCUK slogan has had its run-ins with watchdogs before - ran a TV advert in which two women had a martial-arts contest, culminating in a kiss. The idea apparently was to "symbolise the competition between fashion and style". The ASA decided that despite the complaints of violence, it was clear that the fight was highly stylised and did not reflect criminal assault. The kiss was also fine, they said, and in any case the advert was being shown after the watershed.
Complaints not justified
7. CHANNEL 5 - 99 COMPLAINTS
Five ran a teaser poster campaign saying that "nothing good ever came out of America". The conclusion of the campaign was to highlight American films and TV programmes, but some people complained that the teaser was racist towards Americans and socially irresponsible in that it could incite racial violence. The ASA disagreed. (Channel 5 also appeared in last year's top 10, for a fake dossier advertising CSI:NY which was sent through the post purporting to claim there was a serial killer on the loose.)
Complaints not upheld
8. KELLOGG'S - 96 COMPLAINTS
Objections to a Kellogg's television ad featuring a man riding a dog (to get home in time to eat Crunchy Nut) claimed that it portrayed cruelty to animals and would encourage viewers to try the same stunt at home. Kellogg's responded that the ad was clearly surreal in nature, no dog was actually ridden during filming and that the advert wasn't being shown before the watershed, so children would not copy it. Viewers were also warned not to try it at home.
Complaints not upheld
9. NATIONAL FEDERATION OF CYPRIOTS - 93 COMPLAINTS
This was an advertising feature in the regional press. It drew complaints from a human rights organisation which was concerned it was offensive to the Turkish community and likely to incite racial hatred. Complaints were not upheld, except for a challenge that it was not sufficiently clear that it was advertising material.
10. DOLCE & GABBANA - 89 COMPLAINTS
Something of a theme emerges here - with D&G and the politics of same-sex relations appearing three times each in the top 10. D&G's TV ad showed a brief kiss between two men, and was followed by complaints that it was unsuitable for children to see, and some that it was unsuitable to show at any time. The regulators decided that to be appropriate it was only necessary that the advert not be shown around programmed aimed specifically at children.
Complaints not upheld
Ad Breakdown is compiled by Giles Wilson
Add your comments on this story, using the form below.
It's apparently worse to show same sex kisses than the torture and death of a man on a wooden cross? (I was shown films about Jesus when I was 10 or less), or pictures of the aftermath of bombs (see the news any day), what's so wrong with showing love, whether it be between a man and woman, two men or two women?
I've heard it all now: "American" is a race. Well unless you're talking about Native Americans, that's a complete load of cobblers.
Michael , Bath
How come nobody complained about the Eastpack advertising, where the model is portrayed to have burn marks all over her body, whereas the backpack resisted the fire? I found it cruel and tasteless.
In 2007 are people still really offended by same sex kissing. for crying out loud, we constantly see death, carnage, gratuitous sex and violence on the TV - kissing is about love! get a life.
Paul , Birmingham
I think the world has gone mad, people need to realise that there are more important issues in the world than a TV/Magazine advert.
Simon Roddis, Norwich
You think people would have better ways to spend their time than using it to call up complaint lines to complain about a two second gay kiss. It's the 21st Century. Get over it.
Perhaps the Kellogg's should have their wrists slapped for implying that short people's only mode of transport is to ride a pet. It's not - I've seen short people driving big cars, even lorries.
It amazes me that in the top ten of highest amount of complaints, the tenth one is only 89 complaints. Given how many people in the UK actually own TV's I don't see how this can be fairly judging what is offending the bulk majority. Even the number one slot has to be low in terms of percentages actually WATCHING advertisements. These figures and the subject are constantly in the news. Am I wrong in thinking that because it keeps being highlighted, that is, which ones cause offence to all of 89 people so much so that they have to write a complaint, that it will give people the idea that it's OK to be offended by this material and therefore write in more next year? How does that help? How does it help the BBC readers to know exactly how many people complained about each offending advert?
Neanie, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Personally, I loved the FCUK advert. These complaints seem to stem from people who take everything literally. It's a shame - people complain about "dumbing down" TV, but when something smart, funny or surreal is shown, people decide to get the pen and paper out to write a letter of complaint. Do people really have nothing better to do than find reasons to get upset?
Paul, Belfast, N.Ireland
Too many do-gooders in the country now with no real idea on what happens in the real world. Whatever happened to freedom of speech? Sarcasm is supposed to be the 'highest form of intelligence'.....just enjoy it and take it for what it is! They are ADS for gods sake! Get a life, or better still, go to Africa and help the starving, that way they will all be helping real people in the real world and won't have time to worry about a few TV Ads!!
Steve Conway, Nuneaton, England
I am given some measure of assurance by the ASA's largely rational, common sense decisions on these matters.
Craig Eastman, Chester
I found that most of these ads were very misleading and did not explain the service fully
sanjid mamood, England, Birmingham
I seriously fear for the future of my kids if the politically correct police do not get of their moral high ground. Adverts are meant to stimulate, shock, probe your senses. This is the whole point of adverts, to get the product talked about. Here we have people with too much time on their tutting round some pictures that I have clearly forgotten half of them existed. Grow up! No one was killed in the making of these adverts.
John MacLean, Glasgow
With regards to advert number 10, why do people believe that a brief kiss between two men is unsuitable viewing? I'd rather my children saw a brief kiss between two same sex people than the tongue action shown on some children/teen programmes and soaps!
Angelina Rose, Oxford, UK
The ads that offend (and disturb) me are the ones where Toyota drivers take revenge against people who don't show the car the desired level of respect. Drivers who are out for revenge are dangerous, and ads that glorify such an attitude are irresponsible.
joe, Birmingham, UK
Most adverts show people in a bad light and do not highlight the product they are aiming to sell. Either that, or you get some seriously naff ads with someone yelling at us to buy their product, puts me right off. Clever, witty, informative and tasteful ads are few and far between, wonderful thing the remote, I just ignore the lot off them.
I still find it shocking that an advert with people eating with mouths full (KFC 2005) beat all of the knife glamorising ones this year by at least 3 times the complaints.
Why is it that the ASA upheld that the FCUK ad with 2 women were kissing was acceptable but not the D&C ad where 2 men are kissing? Personally, I would like to see a lot less sexuality of any kind in advertising.
Laura Hodge, Cambridge, UK
What's the point? a handful of complaints from a pool of millions of viewers ... harmless stuff!
Volker, naphill, England
Why is there such a problem with ads showing two men kissing? Ads with a man and a woman have gone much further, such as the Lynx ads which for a long time have suggested that some acne-scarred loser can squirt Lynx about and attractive women will be falling over themselves to make love to him, or ads for magazines such as Nuts showing the front cover with partially dressed women clearly visible. I find that degrading to women and inappropriate, whereas a brief kiss is affectionate and a positive image to show of two adults regardless of their gender.
I have not seen many of these ads but the Carphone warehouse is very annoying!!!
Laura Baldwin, England, Lancashire, burscough
It is quoted that some number of people complain and the number is said to be "a lot". What 50000 complaints? 10000? It's usually a lot less, the top one here is 553. So, how many people watched the advert and didn't complain? Hundreds of thousands? Millions even!
So the VAST majority have no problems with the adverts, and we are supposed to be living in a democracy, and yet a few people moan and the Ads get pulled!
Andy GM Wood, Kingston upon Thames
Clearly some Companies have realised that the enormous free publicity from the airing of the complaints is beneficial ("no such thing as bad publicity"), so they try to offend again. The punitive measures must be increased to counter-act this benefit.
Alan Clarke, Leeds, UK.
Why the constant obsession with homosexuality in adverts?. It is clear that this is an attempt to make homosexuality fashionable and politically correct.
Ali Blackwool, Hansted
I don't normally write in to complain... and today is no different.
Ross Gordon, Godalming
Yes, it is only right and proper that a body like the ASA exists, and its rulings are usually sensible, although I do wonder at the nature and mind-set of some of the complainants. What is far more annoying and frustrating is the manner in which such ads are used, particularly TV ads. Quite apart from the issue of suitability of certain ads at certain times, it is the sheer bulk and repetitiveness of ads that is so depressing. Time was when ad breaks on ITV/Channel 4 were regulated - one break per half hour programme, two per hour long programme. This made advertising tolerable on commercial TV. Now it's a free for all with breaks, it seems every ten minutes, making some programmes effectively unwatchable (and then they wonder at declining audiences!) What is needed is a body like the ASA whose brief is to handle complaints about the use and frequency of advertising, particularly in broadcasting, with the powers to intervene and compel broadcasters to make changes where it deems them appropriate.
Stuart Dollin, Halifax UK
It's probably the same bigoted people voting each time any sign of a gay liaison appears on screen. How is seeing two men or women kiss any less appropriate than seeing a heterosexual couple kiss? Equality laws came into force last week - not that you would know it judging by these results.
Craig E, Bath
At what point is a line drawn. If you put a hundred people in a room and start showing commercials, there will be at least one person offending by every single one. We as a society have become so paranoid that someone may be offended by something that we advertisers have found the shock value in creating a scandal is far more useful in bringing attention to a product than a bland ad that no one would give a second glance at.
Jason, New Jersey, USA
I've not seen most of these ads but must say the Kellogg's ad worried me. I'm not stupid, but I couldn't be sure it was faked.
Jane, Leigh on Sea, UK
All these adverts beg the old saying that there are people out there just waiting to be insulted so they can complain.
Adrian Cox, Coventry
How can any of these complaints been seen as offensive, when the most offensive thing on TV is the esure ad's with Michael Winner.
gobadine, tavistock, England
I was initially offended by the large billboards that said "Nothing good ever came out of America"...they stayed on for weeks. They would have been funny at most times except now - when thanks to Dubya most people in the world believe it to be true. In general though, I am impressed with the tolerance the Brits display towards their ads - notwithstanding all those complaints, I think the advertising is immensely creative and the Brits are, in general, darn good sports!
Some people seem to live in worlds of their own, I just stumbled upon this article and find it amusing that so many people can find the time to complain about the content of an advert, I dread to think what happens when the T.V program starts.
Tim Chapman, Bournemouth
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