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The most complained about ads of 2021 revealed

Ads about periods, internet thieves, and messages from advocacy groups irked Kiwis the most last year according to the list of most complained about ads released by the Advertising Standards Authority.

Last year prompted an eight percent increase in complaints to the ASA compared to 2020 with a total of 1245 complaints about 570 advertisements handled in 2021.

Periods seem to remain a taboo subject for some with Libra’s Asaleo Care TV OnDemand ad and billboard receiving the most complaints in the commercial category. The ads for period proof underwear prompted 22 complaints with plaintiffs finding them offensive and one labelling them culturally insensitive.

The second most complained about commercial ad was also about period proof underwear with eight complainants finding AWWA’s depictions of blood-stained underwear, bedding, and a used sanitary pad, “graphic” and “offensive”. 

The Board ruled that none of these complaints met the threshold to cause “serious or wide-spread offence” and were not upheld.

Also in the commercial category, there were six complaints against Spark’s Skinny television ad which featured a family disguised as robbers with stockings over their heads, discussing how they had stolen their neighbour’s internet. The complainants took issue with the reference to stealing, concerned it could set a bad example and that the face coverings could encourage children to put plastic bags over their heads risking suffocation. This ad was removed after Spark received the complaints.

In the non-commercial category the Voices for Freedom unaddressed mail regarding mask mandates and implying ASA endorsement received 56 complaints which the Board upheld, ruling the mail “misleading and not socially responsible”.

Forty-five complaints against another Voices for Freedom pamphlet containing information against vaccinating children against Covid-19 were also upheld with the Board for the same reasons.

A billboard from the advocacy group Speak up for Women received 34 complaints, with people concerned it was transphobic hate speech, however the Board said under the context of advocacy advertising it did not breach the Advertising Standards Code.

Possible code issues were identified in 284 advertisements and the ASA requested removal or change to 200 of these.

Hilary Souter ASA Chief Executive says there was exceptional voluntary compliance rate last year.

“In 2021, 97 percent of advertisers complied with decisions and where there was non-compliance this was generally in advertiser-controlled media (such as volunteer letter box delivery),” she says.

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