Page last updated at 23:13 GMT, Tuesday, 28 April 2009 00:13 UK

Top 10 most controversial ads


A series of TV films designed by children's charity Barnardo's to raise awareness of child abuse proved the most controversial TV advert of 2008.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received 840 complaints last year due to the imagery of child abuse and drug-taking - but none was upheld.

Despite the number of upheld complaints rising by 27% compared with 2007, none of the criticisms of the 10 most complained about ads was sustained.

The 10 most controversial ads, measured by the number of complaints, were:


Barnardo's ads showed scenes of children being physically or emotionally abused - and how such abuse could affect them later in life.

Still from Barnado's ad

Many of the 840 complainants were concerned about the imagery of abuse and drug use, especially because the ads were being shown at times when children could be watching.

Some other viewers, who reported they had been abused as children, asked whether the imagery could upset some people who had suffered such treatment.

But the ASA ruled that while it understood the ads could be distressing, it believed they had been appropriately scheduled and their aim justified the use of such strong imagery.

Complaints not upheld

Still from Volkswagen ad

Volkswagen's ads - showing a dog singing its canine heart out while travelling in the front seat of a car, yet cowering when out of the vehicle - drew complaints for a number of reasons.

Some viewers were concerned about the dog's welfare, wondering if it had been ill-treated during filming. Others thought the ads condoned animal cruelty, or showed a breach of the Highway Code by allowing dogs to travel in the front seat.

The ASA said that while it was sympathetic to opposition to using trained animals in filming, the ad's makers had ensured a vet was on set during filming, and the vet had confirmed the dog had not been abused.

It said the fantastical tone of the ad meant it could not be seen as an endorsement to harm pets, nor put them at risk.

Complaints not investigated

Still from Orangina ad

Viewers complained the ad for this soft drink was sexually offensive.

The promo showed a woodland scene with cartoon animals - such as bears, deer, zebras and peacocks - dancing together. The ad ends with the line "Orangina... Life is juicy".

The majority of those who complained found the ad overtly sexual. There were also complaints saying that it demeaned and objectified women.

Some said it endorsed women dancing for the gratification for men, while others said it might be inappropriate for younger viewers.

The ASA said the fact the advert was only shown after 2100 meant most viewers would be aware it would have adult tones.

Complaints not investigated


This ad showed children's lunches being made by their "mum" - an unshaven Italian-American man, who at the end of the ad is kissed goodbye by "dad".

Still from Heinz ad

Most of the complaints about the by HJ Heinz Company ad were over a same-sex kiss, and the fact the ad was shown in the daytime and early evening when children might see it.

But the ASA believed that despite some people's personal objection to same-sex kissing, it did not see anything in the kiss that would breach its code.

It said: "We believed most people would view it as humorous, surreal or daft."

Complaints not investigated

Still from Department of Health ad

One of many recent hard-hitting awareness drives aimed at improving public health, the TV and cinema campaign aimed to stop parents smoking in front of their children.

It showed children copying their parents in activities such as DIY, exercise and baking - but also smoking. It had the tagline: "If you smoke, your children are more likely to smoke. Smoking. Don't keep it in the family."

Some believed children would not grasp the meaning of the ad and would just see children smoking.

But the ASA said the importance of the message meant the advert was justified.

Complaints not upheld

Still from Tiscali ad

The telecommunications provider used adultery to help sell its wares in this TV advert, which drew complaints from more than 150 viewers.

The ad showed a woman sleeping with her next-door neighbour. There were complaints over its adult content, and also accusations that it trivialised adultery and that the advertisers were condoning it.

The ASA ruled that the tone of the ad was sufficiently "farcical and unrealistic" for it not to cause offence.

It also said the ad had not been shown in ad breaks for programmes where the very youngest children might be watching on their own.

Complaints not investigated

Still from Zac and Miri poster

The film Zac and Miri Make a Porno, starring Seth Rogan and Elizabeth Banks, was advertised by Entertainment Film Distributors on posters on the side of buses.

Many complainants were concerned with the use of the word "porno" in the title, and the fact that the poster could be seen by young children, who may then ask what it meant.

The ASA, however, said the ad did not contain any explicit imagery, and did not in itself breach any rules.

The ASA said: "We did not consider that the ad would cause widespread or serious offence or harm to children."

Complaints not investigated

Still from Walkers ad

A TV ad for Walkers crisps featuring ex-footballer Gary Lineker was deemed offensive for a scene in which a bus drove under a bridge and had its top deck ripped off.

Some of those who complained said it could have upset people who had experienced such accidents.

After hearing of the complaints, Walkers Snack Foods Ltd decided to withdraw the ad and no action needed to be taken by the ASA.


Still from Specsavers ad

There were complaints for the use of footage of French singer Edith Piaf singing her signature song Je Ne Regrette Rien with subtitles making it appear that she "should have gone to Specsavers".

Many of those who complained felt it trivialised the tragic life of the French singer.

The ASA did not believe the ad would cause widespread offence.

Complaints not investigated

Car Giant poster

Posters for the firm, a used car dealership, showed a man who had saved so much by using Cargiant to buy a car that he could afford to take his mistress on a trip to Paris.

The ad drew ire from people who said it condoned and even endorsed adultery.

Some also said it was chauvinistic and was not a good example for children.

The ASA, however, viewed the ads as light-hearted and did not see them as a promotion for an adulterous lifestyle.

Complaints not investigated

Below are a selection of your comments.

I would like to know what the ASA actually do? I was one of those who complained about the Heinz Deli Mayo ad with the same sex kissing as I did actually find this offensive, but got the standard letter saying that the ASA did not agree, as it has by the looks of it, for all the top 10 ads shown here. I won't bother to write in future!. They even had the audacity to email me asking if my complaint was investigated to my satisfaction!!
Phil Burton, Brighton

You seem to have missed a couple of adverts that received far more complaints. The neutrogena advert that dared to show a nipple received numerous complaints until the offensive nipple was cut from the ad. And the birth to death in around 30 seconds advert for microsoft's X Box received 136 complaints
Dean Messenger, Surrey UK

Lighten up - these are adverts. If you don't subsequently buy the advertised product then the ad has failed and what have you lost? If you have doubts over the veracity of a claim don't buy the product, if it offends you don't buy the product. At any one time the TV is full of content which probably upsets or offends someone somewhere. Here we have products now being displayed on a BBC website as a news item, probably doubling the intended target coverage. Either turn over or turn off. Life is too short.
Mark Turner, Oxford

Has the world gone overly politically correct mad? Do these people have nothing better to do with their time than complain about such nonsense? Seriously, take a deep breath, relax and it'll all be over in 3 minutes. It's not harmful, it's advertising.
Victoria Bennett, Edinburgh

I think that the decisions of the ASA show the steady decline in both morals and ethics displayed by advertisers nowadays, and a lack of respect for the intelligence of the general populace. That said, do as I do, if you think the ad is offensive or derogatory to groups of our community turn it off or turn it over.
S. Nicholson, Doncaster

These complaints and the fact that no further action was taken by the ASA just goes to show how many stupid people there are in this country who just don't "get it".
Tony Privitera, Worcester

How about naming and shaming the people complaining? There are clearly more important issues going on at any point in time. These self righteous do-gooders clearly have nothing better to do and their priorities are severely skewed.
Ben Walker, Leicestershire, UK

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