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Page last updated at 01:25 GMT, Wednesday, 30 April 2008 02:25 UK

Top 10 most controversial ads

The Magazine's review of advertising

The "Get unhooked" advert aimed at getting people to quit smoking was the most complained about advert last year.

The Department of Health advert prompted 774 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

The number of adverts complained about in 2007 was the highest ever at 14,080 and key grievances were violence and misleading claims about being green.

But 2,458 adverts were changed or withdrawn following action by the ASA, it said in its annual report.

So here are the top 10 adverts of 2007, measured by volume of complaints:


The controversial ad which could 'frighten and distress youngsters'

As part of the NHS's anti-smoking drive, this television, press, internet and poster ad campaign showed smokers having a fish hook pulled through their cheek, representing their craving for cigarettes.

Many of those who complained said the adverts were offensive, frightening and distressing. The largest group of complaints related to the poster ads and the effect they could have on children.

The ASA found the adverts were unlikely to cause serious offence or distress to adult viewers.

But despite an "ex-kids restriction" - which stops adverts being shown during or around programming aimed at children - two of the television adverts and the poster ads were found to have the potential to frighten and distress youngsters.

Complaints upheld


Trident gum advert

These adverts showed people speaking in Caribbean accents while extolling the virtues of the new gum from Cadbury's and drew complaints that they were offensive and racist.

People argued the ads - shown on television and in cinemas - showed stereotypes that ridiculed black or Caribbean people and their culture.

The ASA decided the adverts did not incite racial discrimination but acknowledged that a significant minority of viewers had been unintentionally offended.

Complaints upheld

Rustlers advert

Television adverts for Rustlers drew ire from viewers who thought they were sexist and demeaning to women.

The adverts for the microwaveable burgers showed a man and a woman arriving at the man's flat, with the woman agreeing to having a coffee while sitting on a sofa.

The man then punches into a microwave style keypad which sets the sofa rotating, soon revealing the woman wearing just underwear.

The humour in the ads would be unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence the ASA ruled. But it had an ex-kids restriction and was shown during Bugsy Malone, a film that would appeal to children, so complaints about scheduling were upheld.

Some complaints upheld

MFI advert

Furniture giant MFI ran adverts showing couples having arguments that transpired to be within stores.

The campaign had an ex-kids restriction, but viewers still felt they were shocking and disturbing and suggested arguments were part of ordinary home life.

The ASA upheld complaints about one of the adverts, which showed a woman slapping her husband across the face for leaving a toilet seat up.

It did so on the basis that it could cause offence and be seen to be condoning violence.

Complaints upheld

Quorn advert

A campaign on behalf of Marlow foods for their Quorn meat substitute showed a family meal, with the daughter objecting to the eating of Quorn on the basis that it was "her thing".

She brandishes a fork and threatens her brother with the words "touch my food - feel my fork".

Complainants said this was a depiction of a threat of violence and was therefore irresponsible and condoning bullying.

Feeling that the adverts were a light-hearted portrayal of family life, the ASA said it felt it was unlikely to encourage children to copy it, or cause harm to children or seriously offend.

Complaints not upheld

Oasis advert

A vicious attack by a crocodile on an unlucky wildebeest featured in this television advert for soft drink Oasis.

Those who complained found it distressing because it trivialised the violent death of an animal. Others also said their children had been frightened by it.

The ASA concluded the advert was likely to be seen as a light-hearted spoof and there were no graphic images of the animal being struck or bitten.

It also decided the fact that it was only cleared for broadcast after 1930 ensured that it would not be seen by children unsupervised.

Complaints not upheld

British Heart Foundation advert

A man naked except for a swimming hat and goggles featured in this poster and national press advert. He was cuddling a woman in a swimsuit on a beach.

Those who complained objected to the nudity, saying it was gratuitous and irrelevant to the product.

Several people also complained that the posters had been placed near to schools in some areas.

The ASA decided the nudity in the ad was not explicit as the men's genitals were covered and it would not cause serious offence.

Complaints not upheld

SMA advert

This television advert showed a dad falling asleep next to a boiling kettle and a tin of formula. The on-screen text stated: "Progress is a follow-on formula. Not intended to replace breastfeeding."

It annoyed some who argued that it was misleading and harmful because it didn't make clear it was advertising formula for babies over six months of age.

Some also argued that it might discourage mothers from breastfeeding.

The ASA concluded that as a whole the advert made it sufficiently clear it was a formula for babies over six months. It also decided it would not discourage breastfeeding among mothers.

Complaint not upheld

PETA advert

"Feeding kids meat is child abuse," stated the poster in question and featured a close-up image of a child eating a burger.

Complaints argued it was irresponsible as it encourage parents to withdraw meat from their child's diet without replacing the nutrients it provides.

People also complained that it trivialised child abuse, was offensive and distressing to parents who fed their children meat and misleadingly implied that eating meat could lead to obesity.

The message was "anti-meat" said the ASA, but parents were likely to understand that if you withdraw a food from a child's diet the nutrients that food provides should be replaced.

It accepted some might find the wording of the ad inappropriate but decided it did not trivialise child abuse or mislead consumers.

Complaint not upheld

The Sun advert

It featured the naked top half of a woman with an enlarged 10 pence piece covering each breast and appeared on the side of buses.

People complained the advert portrayed women as sexual objects, was pornographic and appeared on buses where children could view it.

The ASA decided the ad was not overtly sexual in nature and the amount of flesh revealed was no different to that in a bikini.

While it agreed the ad would be distasteful to some, it could not be argued to be pornographic and wasn't likely to cause serious or widespread offence.

Complaint not upheld

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

I'm one of the 774 that complained about the smoking ad. It was made during a battle of giving up the cigarettes and the very large poster on my walk to and from work did upset me. The soulless look in those eyes bit me deeply. It actually made quitting far more difficult; I feel the present advert of being rescued from cigarettes is much better.
Michelle Knight, Haywards Heath, UK

Forget content, my complaints would be aimed at all those annoying adverts with singing or irritating music that seem to crop up every programme break. I am of course talking about the HBOS, Sheilas' Wheels, and other such adverts. Particularly annoying is that Ford "Beautifully Arranged" advert with instruments made out of car parts. It is enough to drive any sane person round the bend.
Alex, London

I'm NOT offended by sexual images, offended is the wrong word but there are reasons why they should be banned. Firstly, they are forced on us. Not everyone wants sexual images forced on them. Are we that pathetic with terrible sex lives to the point that we need titillating? Are products or TV shows that poor that they need to attract people with sex? I don't ever watch TV in front of family or friends anymore after 9pm because it often ends up as embarrassing and this is one of the reasons that teenagers don't sit in the front room with their parents in the evening anymore.
Sarah, UK north west

I do agree that the PETA advert is offensive and reckless. Fair enough, junk food such as burgers packed with fillers rather than real meat and covered in large amounts of cheese will result in childhood obesity. But suggesting that feeding your child meat is tantamount to child abuse is offensive to parents who feed their child meat as part of a balanced and varied diet. Children and teenagers are especially vulnerable to the pressures of advertising and this advert may encourage them to become vegetarians or vegans without proper regard to the nutritional consequences.
SH, Perth, UK

UK advertising is great. As a Brit expat who has lived in SE Asia for over 30 years it is wonderful to holiday in UK and watch the huge scope, breadth and variety of Brit adverts. For my crimes in life I did four years in Australia where the ads (and music) are dreadful. Even worse are the repetition of the same ad over and over again, even during the same program. I did find the fishhook a bit over the top, but in Singapore we have pictures of horrific cancer cases on all cartons of ciggies, so it's a good cause.
Mike Bruce, Singapore

I find it interesting to check my reactions to the above complaints and realise that I'm annoyed. Tolerance and free thinking are the fuels of a modern, progressive society. To have one's thoughts provoked is often the only way to gain valid awareness of the world outside one's own experience. What's wrong with these people? Adverts designed to provoke a thought for public awareness, health or even monetary gain are not wrong.
Simon, Northampton

Advertising in the UK is envied the world over for its ingenuity, imagination and often fantastic humour - all of which are demonstrated in this Top 10. Added together, this exercise proves conclusively that 2445 UK residents desperately need to find something purposeful to do with their time. My advice to them all would be to steer well clear of comedy writing and maybe consider switching the TV off once in a while.
Steve Shields, Hong Kong

Well after reading this I have concluded that there's not much point in having ASA. As far as I'm concerned all of these complaints should have seen the adverts banned, as should all adverts of female hygiene products. How standards have slipped with the passage of time. Bring back Mary Whitehouse, I say.
Anne Porter, Belfast

Does Anne really believe that adverts for female hygiene products should be banned? Why? I've not seen any that could be construed as even remotely offensive to any minority. Are women supposed to be secretive about such things?
D, East Grinstead

It's amazing what people will be offended by these days. I'm sorry, but if you're the type of person to become distressed by the domestic rows portrayed in the MFI adverts, or the sibling rivalry in the Quorn one, then you may as well wrap yourself up in cotton wool, and hide in a box for the rest of eternity. Am I the only person who found the NHS advert quite effective? And why is it such a bad thing that an anti-smoking advertisement has the potential to frighten children? Isn't that an effective point to make?
Manus McGonigle, York, UK

It's amazing that so many people have the time to worry about the content of adverts and how it MIGHT affect others, especially children. To reveal the tacit suggestions about violence, diet etc. that some adverts are claimed to contain require some extraordinary leaps of the imagination. If you don't like it, don't watch it.
Steve, London

What about that disgusting ad (that always seems to appear when I'm eating my dinner) - with that irritating little boy who's just done something smelly in the loo and says "It's all gone...". Condescending Mummy then brings him air freshener or loo roll or whatever the product is that's being advertised. It proves the ad doesn't work, as I can't even remember what it's for - I just find it revolting and tasteless, and turn over as soon as it comes on.

I'd love to know how many kids were discouraged from taking up smoking by the NHS "fish-hook" campaign. When it comes to matters like smoking or drink-driving, shock tactics are frequently the most effective at getting the message across. 744 complainants versus millions of pounds saved by the country on smoking-related NHS treatments? I know what I'd choose.
Tom Bates, London

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