Ad rage: the top ten most complained about ads of 2013

In 2013, the ASA received 792 complaints levelled at 598 advertisements that Kiwis found offensive, misleading or irresponsible. 313 of these complaints were found to have no grounds to proceed while 285 were were referred to the Complaints Board. In total 60 percent of the ads that reached the Complaints Board were either settled or upheld.

While the ASA’s annual breakdown at best provides a very rough guideline of Kiwi social mores, it also shows some interesting trends in terms of which channels Kiwis are active in.   ​    

The IAB’s Q1 figures recently showed that ad spend in online channels was increasing rapidly, and this insight was reiterated by the ASA’s report, which stated that 173 of the complaints were levelled against advertisements on websites. Only television received a higher number, with 220 complaints made about promotional material published in the channel.

This shift toward online channels was also reflected in the data related to the source of complaints, which showed that 85 percent of all complaints were made online.

Interestingly, it doesn’t require many complaints for an advert to be included among the top ten ‘most complained about’ ads, with this year’s threshold only being five.     

10. Bouncing is too risque (five complaints)

Five television viewers deemed the ‘Berlei Bounce’ spot for its range of sports bra inapporpriate for screening at times when children might be watching television. The Chairman didn’t agree and said “there was nothing suggestive or salacious about the sports bra advertisement other than how the product protected women’s breasts during sports activities”. 

9. Naughty Hauraki (five complaints)

The Board decided that Hauraki Radio’s billboard featuring Matt Heath giving his co-workers the finger overstepped the line on account of its placement in a central city location. It was felt that this high visibility meant that the billboard went beyond its target market and reached people who could’ve been offended by the content.  

8. Only a dream (five complaints)

Last year the ASA gave Hellers a slap for an ad that depicted comedian Leigh Hart barbecuing on the back of a speeding ute. Despite also depicting some reckless driving, the complaints about this Whittaker’s spot were not upheld on account of the fact that viewers were capable of recognising the distinction between fiction and reality.

7. Diabetes debacle (five complaints)

The complainants in this instance felt that more care should’ve been taken to distinguish between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. While the chair agreed that the issue was important, it was decided that the ad did not breach the advertising codes.

6. Dancing in undies OK (five complaints)

Crotch focus served as the genesis of concern for the complainants, who felt that this wasn’t approrpriate for viewing times when children might be sitting in front of the television. Once again, the chair felt that there were no grounds to proceed.  


5. Reckless Rav (five complaints)

As was the case with the Whittaker’s spot, some Kiwis felt that this ad encouraged reckless driving. Once again, the chair didn’t agree, saying that the pair of blokes didn’t breach the threshold in terms glorifying excessive speeds or unsafe driving practices.   


4. Condom concerns (11 complaints)

More than ten people found cartoon imagery of gay men on outdoor posters and on the Getiton.co.nz website to be “incredibly sexual” and “an attack on morality”. The Complaints Board disagreed and felt that the depiction of homosexuality was not a ground to uphold a complaint in itself.  

3. Tui scandal (18 complaints)

Despite receiving 18 complaints, the well-publicised Tui billboard was deemed not to have grounds to proceed because it did not meet the threshold to breach the advertising codes.   

2. Anti-abortion ad antagonises (36 complaints)

This Voice for Life ad, which received the second highest number of complaints last year, was deemed harmful and misleading by no less than 36 people. The chair dismissed the complaints on the grounds of Rule 11 of the ASA code, which protects the right of people to express a belief or an opinion, irrespective of the message. The chair felt that the focus of the ad was on the personal experience of a single person, and it thus did not have grounds to be taken any further.  

1. Marriage pledge (56 complaints)

The ad that provoked the ire of the greatest number of Kiwis last year was the Marriage Pledge campaign by Family First NZ. The advertisement asked voters to vote against people who supported the Marriage Equality Bill. Despite the the number of complaints, the chair again referenced Rule 11 and said that there were no grounds to proceed. 

See the full ASA report here.

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