They doth protest too much? 2010’s most complained about ads

The ASA’s annual report for 2010 is out and the always interesting top ten most complained about ads of the year has been released, with the Erotica Expo billboard, ASB’s IVF ad and a Durex condoms outdoor campaign taking the medals. 

This year, 1164 complaints were received about 792 advertisements, whereas 2009 saw a total of 1339 complaints about 829 advertisements. The upheld/settled rate was 52 percent, TV was once again the main societal punching bag an consumer products were the most complained about sector. 

As for trends, unsurprisingly, given the profile of the alcohol industry and questions around alcohol advertising, 96 complaints were received under the Code for Advertising Liquor, an increase on the 78 complaints received in 2009. Of the 96 complaints, 49 were accepted to be heard by the Complaints Board, 27 were upheld or settled, 21 were not upheld and one was ruled no jurisdiction. Amazingly, “70 percent of the complaints were from five individuals who engage with our system despite their strong opposition to liquor advertising”.

61 complaints were dealt with under the Therapeutic Products Advertising Code and the Therapeutic Services Advertising Code, an increase on the 47 complaints received in 2009.  Thirty four complaints were upheld or settled by the Complaints Board.

There were also 14 Adjudication With the Attendance of Parties (AWAPS), a scheme designed “to process complaints made by one competitor against another, and is designed to respond to the requirements of complaints in a competitive environment”. This was down significantly from 37 in 2009. Five of them proceeded to a hearing, four were upheld and one was upheld in part. Two of the five were between Progressive and Foodstuffs, while another complex case saw Nurofen smacked on the hand for comparing itself to Paracetomol.

But we know what you want to see. So here are the most complained about ads of 2010. Remarkably, Hell Pizza, a regular member of the club, is nowhere to be seen this time round, which, given its penchant for publicity-grabbing marketing material, could be classified as a bad year.

1) Erotica Expo Outdoor Advertisement: 71 complaints – Upheld.

The mobile billboard containing an image of a woman’s naked pelvic area covered with a halved melon and the woman’s finger positioned inside it was towed around the streets of central Auckland. Complainants felt the image was indecent, offensive, discriminatory and “dehumanising”. In the Complaints Board’s view, the public and highly visible campaign, was intended to cause maximum outrage and receive maximum exposure with the associated ripple effect of media and public attention.

2) ASB’s ‘Chance’: 39 complaints – Not upheld.

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The ad depicted the story of a couple’s attempts to have a baby and the role ASB could play to offer funding for IVF. Complainants found the advertisement offensive for many reasons, among them that the television advertisement exploited a vulnerable group; was socially irresponsible; and promoting the accumulation of debt to start a family is not productive in an era that encourages saving. The majority of the Complaints Board found that the spirit and the intent of the advertisement was one of hope and renewed opportunity for people seeking another round of IVF treatment rather than one of exploitation, and like many financial matters, there was risk and reward and the advertisement had shown both unsuccessful and successful outcomes of IVF. The majority reiterated that the Advertiser was entitled to promote the possibility of financial assistance to fund IVF treatment to consumers and that the advertisement, despite the emotive elements involved, was not exploitative, nor misleading.

3) Durex Bus & Billboard Advertisement: 24 Complaints – Settled.

The advertisement for Durex condoms, which appeared on the back of buses and on billboards, featured a naked man and a woman in an embrace. Complainants were of the view that the advertisement was offensive and especially inappropriate in such a public forum where children could see it. The Advertiser said while it was not their intention to embarrass or offend anyone, they felt that informing consumers about Durex condoms and condom usage encourages safe sex practices and therefore was a health benefit that served the public interest. However, in light of the complaints, the Advertiser agreed to remove the advertisement from the buses and billboards.

4) Fresh-Up ‘Thirst is Creepy’: 17 Complaints – Not Upheld.

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The advertisement portrayed a man being massaged by a male masseur. Because the masseur is thirsty, his lips stick to his gums, exposing his teeth and making him sound odd. The masseur’s expression and the way he sounded made the man on the table uncomfortable and he looks around at the masseur who told the man: “You just try and relax, if you can”. At the end of the scene the words “Thirst is Creepy” were superimposed on the screen. Complainants thought the advertisement made a joke out of sexual harassment. The Complaints Board agreed that the massage scenario was uncomfortable to watch and was somewhat “creepy”.  However, it also said that the focus on the masseur’s mouth was rather obscure and the message about him being thirsty was not immediately apparent. While the Complaints Board acknowledged that the advertisement presented a quirky incident in keeping with the “creepy” theme of the advertisement, it did not consider that it contained the sexual behaviour or implications suggested by the Complainants.

5) Whittaker’s Chocolate Lovers: 16 Complaints – Not Upheld.

Youtube VideoThe ad showed a naked dark skinned male and a naked pale skinned female frolicking—and just plain licking—in pools of chocolate and peppermint. Complainants said it was inappropriate to see two naked people in an advertisement when children were watching while others objected to the way the couple touched each other and raised issues relating to the timing of the advertisement as well as its suggestiveness and overtly sexual content. The Complaints Board said the advertisement had been carefully created to ensure that any nude views had been fleeting and not gratuitous and it unanimously agreed the advertisement was not likely to cause serious and widespread offence. The advertisement had been given a GXC rating which was defined as: “General Except Children”. The Board also agreed that the Advertiser had taken care to ensure the advertisement had been prepared with a due sense of social responsibility.

6) Tui Website Advertisement: 15 Complaints – Settled.

The Tui website advertisement featured a woman standing dressed only in her lacy underpants. She had her arm covering her right breast and the viewer could see part of her breast. The text which read “DISTRACTING THE BOYS FROM THE TASK AT THE HAND SINCE 1889” featured at the bottom of the advertisement. Complainants objected that the advertisements were sexually provocative. Two other Tui website advertisements that also featured scantily-dressed women drew 15 complaints each. The Advertiser, DB Breweries Limited, said that the user-generated copy appeared on the “live” website as a result of a computer error and that “live” access is not normally available for material deemed inappropriate. Once the Advertiser was made aware of the error, access to the images on the website was immediately blocked. All three complaints were settled, as the advertisements had been removed.

7) Burger King Rebel: 13 complaints – Not upheld.

Burger King promoted the “Rebel Burger” with images of the product on-screen and the voiceover that said: “The Rebel, from Burger King. Onion Rings, cheese, smoky barbeque sauce and a 100% chicken breast fillet. It’s so good, even the most dedicated vegetarian could turn.” Complainants thought the advertisement belittled vegetarianism. They stated that they were vegetarian for ethical reasons, and were offended by the Advertiser’s implication that ‘committed vegetarians’ could be swayed by their product, and found the reference to vegetarians offensive, insulting and discriminatory. However, the Board noted the actual wording in the advertisement which said “It’s so good, even the most dedicated vegetarian could turn” and agreed that the advertisement had used a level of humour and satire to exaggerate the desirability of a food product, with a sense of the ridiculous. While recognising the advertisement had been offensive to the Complainants, the Complaints Board ruled that the advertisement was not reasonably likely to cause serious or widespread offence to vegetarians.

8) DB Export Beer Television Advertisement: 13 Complaints – Upheld.

Youtube VideoThe television advertisement for DB Export Beer was about Finance Minister Sir Arnold Nordmeyer’s infamous ‘Black Budget’ and the introduction by Morton Coutts of DB Export Beer in response to the tax. The advertisement featured a screen-shot at the end of the advertisement with the text “LET NOTHING COME BETWEEN A MAN AND A GREAT BEER.” Complainants said that the advertisement had an “unduly masculine theme” and was thus in breach of the Code for Advertising Liquor. The Complaints Board accepted the Advertiser’s explanation that the story speaks of Morton’s vision to ensure great quality beer was affordable again to all New Zealanders. It noted that the advertisement was about an era that was celebrating when drinking in a public bar closed at 6pm and as such, the advertisement was the Advertiser’s account of the events that took place at that time. The Board further acknowledged that beer had a predominate appeal to men and there was a level of acceptance that advertisements about beer would be more likely appeal to men rather than implying unduly masculine themes. of course, it was also criticised for inaccurate history and had to remove a scene of the waterfront strike.

9) Hampsta Radio Advertisement: 12 Complaints – Upheld.

The radio advertisement for Hampsta featured a child-like cartoon voice singing a jingle, which encouraged listeners to join the Hampsta savings scheme and included the line “But now my mum’s joined Hampsta cause it’s the smartest way to save a little bit each week to pay for Christmas Day. Now when we get to Christmas life won’t be a bitch. I get heaps of toys and food cause we’ll be Hampsta rich.” Complainants said they were shocked to hear the word “bitch” in the advertisement. The majority of the Complaints Board were of the view that the child-like voice and rhyming jingle style of the advertisement would have evident appeal to children who heard the advertisement and noted the concerns about the normalising of such expletives. The Board noted that the word “bitch” was in the 2009 survey “The Acceptability of Words on Television and Radio“ undertaken by the Broadcasting Standards Authority and that 26 percent of the people surveyed had found it offensive. The majority of the Complaints Board ruled that the advertisement did not observe a due sense of social responsibility.

10) Sanitarium Weetbix Television Advertisement: 12 Complaints – Upheld.

Youtube VideoThe television advertisement for Weet-bix showed a group of children snowboarding down the mountain and then long-boarding through fields and paddocks, then skate-boarding and biking on the open road and around a blind corner. Some of the children were on both sides of the road at various times. A safety message was featured at the bottom centre of the screen for part of the scene which read “Filmed on closed roads under controlled conditions”. Complainants were shocked and disturbed to see children skateboarding in the middle of a road on a bend and said the size of the warning on the screen that stated the scene was “filmed on a closed road under controlled conditions” was too small and unlikely to be noticed by a child or young person.The Complaints Board said that the depiction of the children skate-boarding on the open road was realistic, achievable by children, and showed an unsafe practice that children may try to re-enact. The Complaints Board was of the view that the safety message, even in light of the amended version, was insufficient given the realistic depiction of the scene and the risk of copy-cat behaviour by young viewers. Therefore, the Board was of the view that the advertisement had not been prepared with a high standard of social responsibility.

Check out the full report here.


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