Advertising ire: The top ten most complained about ads of 2014

People love to complain, particularly when it comes to ads: “Why does it always become louder during the ads?”, “I hate this ad”, “I swear they screen ads longer than they used to” – are all common complaints heard around the endangered television set. The Advertising Standards Authority has released a report on the top 10 most complained about ads from last year, here’s the rundown.

Last year the ASA received 871 complaints (up 10 percent) about 672 advertisements (up 12 percent) about ads.

The most complained-of mediums were television (219 complaints) with the web following not too far behind (178 complaints), outdoor advertising (46 complaints), newspapers (46 complaints) and radio (37 complaints).

The most complained about issues were that the ads were misleading (264 complaints), offensive or not socially responsible (201 complaints), therapeutic (84 complaints), advocacy (41 complaints) and safety (16 complaints).

The most complained about product categories were: Therapeutic (107 complaints), consumer product (92 complaints), retail (69 complaints), advocacy (57 complaints) and food and beverage (54 complaints).

Total spent on media placement was 2.386 billion, compared to 2013 which was 2.274 billion.

And now, for the countdown:

10. No “balls” (five complaints)

Five viewers thought the reference to (what has very much become a colloquial term) “balls” in this NZTA advertisement that warned against drinking and driving was offensive and inappropriate for children to see. The Chairman noted the word “balls” ranked 25 out of 31 in a survey that looked at the acceptability of expletives on television saying the overall safety message was more important. She said the complaints had no grounds to proceed.

9. Toupee troubles (five complaints)

Five people deemed this Orcon ad of a man dressed in a military uniform ripping off the toupee from an internet executive offensive and racist in light of current world events. The Chairman decided the advertisement was no more than humorous satire and the comparisons complainants made between the toupee tearing and jihadist beheadings or scalping were extreme interpretations. The complaints weren’t upheld.

8. Terrible tampons (six complaints)

This is an area of advertising that has treaded carefully around the strangely touchy topic of periods for years – with ads often full of cutesy flowers and women walking independently down streets. This Carefree ad was more realistic showing a girl searching the internet to see if she had inserted a tampon correctly, which the complainants deemed “too explicit” saying it should have been shown later in the evening so children couldn’t see it, and that young women watching it with men would be insulted. The complaints board said the scene was not likely to cause serious or widespread offence to viewers. The complaint was not upheld.

7. Like lambs to the slaughter (seven complaints)

Seven viewers felt this advertisement for Stihl Chainsaws showing a farmer entering a burning building was at odds with education about the dangers of fire. Others said the ad reinforced to men that animal cruelty was acceptable, that losing a chainsaw would “undermine their machismo” and children would be distressed. The complaints board said the theatrical nature would indicate to most viewers not to take it seriously. The complaint was not upheld.

6. Taking the bull by the horns (nine complaints)

Nine complainants said this Glassons ad glamorised bull riding while others said abusing an animal was unacceptable. The majority of the complaints board noted the advertiser was responsible in its efforts to minimise any harm to the animals. The board noted the philosophical opposition to bull riding expressed by some complainants and took into account “prevailing community standards” saying it didn’t reach the threshold to cause serious and widespread offence to most people. The complaint was not upheld.

5. Burger King Berated (ten complaints)

Ten viewers were offended by this ad which features an elderly man on his last legs, wearing an oxygen mask, saying BK’s new beef burger with peppercorn sauce was a match made in heaven. His young, dolled up and bored Russian wife says exasperatedly “When will you die?” The Chairman noted the advertiser had removed the ad as a result of the complaints. Due to the self-regulatory action taken by the advertiser, the complaint was settled.

See the ad here.

4. Crazytown (12 complaints)

Burger King landed itself in hot water again with another ad, as 12 complainants said this ad showing a man talking to himself was distasteful, discriminatory towards people with mental illnesses, perpetuated negative stereotypes and was offensive. The Chairman disagreed saying people would be aware the advertisement was referencing the “crazy” prices and not mental illness and it did not reach the threshold to cause serious and widespread offence to most people. There were no grounds to proceed on this occasion.

3. Controversial Contact (15 complaints)

Fifteen people were concerned this ad for Contact Energy of children play-imitating everyday family life. The children discuss pregnancy, breastfeeding (why Mums breastfeed and not Dads) as well as why their Uncle Danny couldn’t have babies because he was “married to a boy”. The complaints board acknowledged the objects, including the time the advertisement screened but it found that nothing in the ad was likely to cause serious or widespread offence. The complaint was not upheld.

2. Burger King Bully (16 complaints)

Incredibly, a third Burger King ad has made it onto the list, with sixteen viewers unhappy with it. The complainants were upset by BK’s use of an intimidating and aggressive ex-prisoner. Burger King said it did not condone bullying behaviour and the characters were meant to be exaggerated. But, after receiving numerous complaints about the ad directly and taking into account current sensitivity around the issue of bullying in New Zealand, Burger King removed the advertisement from air.

We weren’t able to track this ad down, sorry.

1. Insensitive placement (37 complaints)

Thirty Seven were offended by the placement of an advertisement for Skyns condoms during Consent: The Louise Nicholas Story on TVNZ. The broadcaster acknowledged the sensitivity of the subject matter and said the placement should have been considered prior to broadcast. The Herald reported TVNZ also apologised to Louise Nicholas herself. The Chairman noted booking procedures were under review as a result of the error and the complaint was settled – media error.

You can see ads for Skyns condoms here.

Advertising Standards Authority chief executive Hilary Souter said in the ASA 2014 annual report a new database has been built to better meet the requirements of processing 800 formal complaints a year, over 100 informal enquiries and the provision of advice about code compliance. “Database testing was underway by December 2014 and it will be fully operational in early 2015,” she says. “The ASA website will be updated as part of this project.”

She says work is ongoing to improve engagement with both industry and external stakeholders along with a programme of review for the Codes of Practice. “Reviews of the Code for Financial Advertising and the Code for advertising Weight Management Products and Services were completed in 2014 and new codes are in place.”

Standard complaints board chair Jenny Robson said in the report over 80 percent of its complaints are lodged via the online complaints for on its website. “The appeal process has been streamlined, with all appeals now referred directly to the Chairperson of the Appeal board from 2015.”

She says television continues to be the most complained about medium, although many of those complaints do not meet the threshold to breach the Codes of Practice. “Advertiser websites are the second largest media category for complaint, and many of these are upheld,” she says. “Education is key for many smaller businesses that are often less aware of the regulatory responsibilities that advertising brings both under the ASA Codes of Practice and via legislation.”

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