The 10 most complained about ads of 2016

The ASA has released the country’s most complained about ads of 2016 and unsurprisingly it was racism, encouragement of illegal behaviour and inappropriate sexual content that got New Zealanders’ blood boiling.

Last year, 568 complaints were made to the ASA with 48 percent pertaining to TV ads, 31 percent digital, eight percent to out-of-home, eight percent to print and six percent to radio.

In the top 10 most complained about ads, 2 Cheap Cars put in a standout performance by appearing on the list twice. Let’s see the other brands that raised eyebrows.

10. NZ Post received three complaints in regard to battery confusion 

NZ Post was called up on something of a technicality in an email campaign, with three complainants claiming that the headphones that contain lithium-ion batteries featuring in the campaign couldn’t be shipped from the UK due to legislation. The advertiser had to update their website instructions in order to make this clearer for potential customers who might not be familiar with the importing rules.  

9. Carls Jnr receives four complaints about sexy burgers

Carls Jnr remains an ardent believer in the notion that sex sells, and brings this to life in its highly sexualised TV spots. The ‘bacon three-way burger’ ad that aired in the local market was no exception to this, featuring some very provocative eating. While the ad certainly was sexual in nature, Carls Jnr said the ad was aimed at ‘young hungry males’ and was classified GXC, so it wouldn’t be played during programmes intended for children under 13. The Complaints Board agreed the ad contained sexual innuendo but did not meet the threshold to cause serious or widespread offence.  


8. The NZ Palestine Human Rights Campaign received four complaints about its billboard

Political campaigns always risk stoking the partisan fires. And with an issue as divisive as the occupation of Palestinean land, this billboard was always going to ruffle a few feathers. The four complainants in this instance said that the billboard conveyed a misleading impression about the issue. However, the Complaints Board noted the advertisement referred to an ongoing dispute and was clearly advocating a particular point of view. In the context of advocacy advertising, the Complaints Board said the ad was unlikely to mislead. 

7. 2 Cheap Cars received five complaints about a screaming girl

The 2 Cheap Cars ad goes down as a classic example of badvertising. The kitsch graphics, the use of speech bubbles and the excitable spokesperson all combine to make this ad shockingly annoying. As it turns out, none of these characteristics are grounds for having an ad banned. One complainant even went as far as calling the ad an example of bullying, but this argument was also rejected by the board. Bad advertising might be irritating, but it certainly isn’t against any of the guidelines set by the ASA.              


6. Canon received six complaints about a TV ad that allegedly promoted bad behaviour.

The ASA Complaints Board disagreed with the complainants on this one, saying that the international ad showing a girl smashing two vases and a fish bowl in frustration over her mother not having any photos of her was clearly just an example of comedic hyperbole. The complaints weren’t upheld in this one and the ad was allowed to continue running. 


5. Old Mout Cider received 10 complaints about a TV and Facebook ad that was deemed transphobic.

Featuring a man and woman in a bar, a voiceover reveals the woman had once been a ‘Brian’ and had lied about it. The complainants believed the ad implied transgender people are deceptive if they do not use the name they are given at birth.

The complaints were settled and DB apologised for any distress the ad caused and withdrew it.

4. Parallel Imported received 10 complaints about telling the audience to film their neighbours with a Samsung S7 cellphone and DJI Phantom drone.

The complaints said the advertisement encouraged unethical and illegal behaviour, which could lead to serious breaches of privacy. The complaints were settled and the advertiser apologised for any offence caused and withdrew the advertisement.

However, it’s been put back on the company’s Facebook page alongside a celebratory caption about being mentioned in the most complained about ads.

3. Greenpeace received 14 complaints for misleading the audience about what’s polluting New Zealand’s rivers.

The ad claimed New Zealand rivers are being polluted by industrial farming and irrigation schemes, however, the complainants believe the dairy industry is not solely responsible.

The complaint was not upheld as The Complaints Board confirmed the advertisement was advocacy advertising and the identity of the advertiser was clear and its position on environmental issues was widely known.

2. The NZTA received 15 complaints about its ‘Thoughts’ ad as it was seen to be unsuitable for children because it includes drug use.

The advertiser agreed to move the ad from its prime time spot so it would be less likely to be viewed by children. However, The Complaints Board said the advertisement contained an important public safety message and was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence. The complaints were not upheld.

1. ‘From ‘Ah so’ to ‘Ah Sold’’ for 2 Cheap Cars received 27 complaints for causing offence with perpetuated racist stereotypes.

The advertiser agreed to remove the advertisement, however, did argue it had been viewed by more than 10 Japanese people and none of them found it to be offensive. The company’s Japanese directors, also felt they should be able to express their own native culture. The complaint was settled.

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