The 10 most complained about UK adverts of 2017

Wednesday, 31st January 2018, 11:01 pm
Updated Wednesday, 31st January 2018, 11:08 pm

The 10 most complained about adverts of 2017 in the UK have been revealed, with fast food chain KFC topping the list.

The KFC advert featuring a chicken strutting around to rap music attracted 755 complaints and was considered "distressing to chickens and distressing for vegetarians, vegans and children", because of its implication that the bird was headed for slaughter.

The complaints in that case were not upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

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Other adverts which attracted high numbers of complaints included Moneysupermarket's long-running #epicsquads of strutters and builders, and a Dove ad about breast-feeding, which was removed.

Two of the ads - Match.com and Maltesers - were from campaigns which also featured in 2016’s top 10, meaning these have continued to court controversy over two years.

The ASA's top 10 most complained about ads of 2017:

1. KFC

755 Complaints – Not upheld

KFC's ad received complaints that it was disrespectful to chickens and distressing for vegetarians, vegans and children, since it depicted a chicken that was heading for slaughter. The ASA ruled it was unlikely that the ad would cause distress or serious or widespread offence as there were no explicit references to animal slaughter.

2. Moneysupermarket

455 Complaints – Not upheld

This Moneysupermarket.com campaign also featured in the top 10 for 2015 and 2016. Like many of the ads in the same campaign, 2017’s ad featured the two #epicsquads – the strutters and the builders – and a new female character.

Many found the ad to be offensive on the grounds that it was overtly sexual and possibly homophobic. The ASA thought the character’s movements would generally be seen as dance moves and not in a sexual context. They also thought most viewers would recognise the ad’s intended take on humour.

3. Dove

391 Complaints – Not investigated; ads removed

Dove produced a series of ads that contained statistics and opinions about breastfeeding in public. The ads were featured across magazines, social media, and Dove’s website. Many criticised the language, such as “put them away”, as it might encourage criticism of breastfeeding. Some were also concerned that the ads might encourage neglecting crying babies. After listening to the public, Dove issued an apology and subsequently pulled the ads and amended their website.

4. Match.com

293 Complaints – Not upheld

Match.com’s ad, starring a lesbian couple kissing passionately, appears again in the list of most complained about ads. The ASA received similar complaints last year, when it was number three on the list, about whether the ad was too sexually explicit for children to see. They ruled then that the ad did not cross the line. Over the two years, the ad has attracted almost 1,200 complaints.

5. McDonald’s

256 Complaints – Not investigated; ads removed

McDonald’s produced a TV ad featuring a boy and his mother talking about his dead father. From the conversation, the boy became visibly upset as he found few similarities between him and the father that his mother described. Ultimately, he found comfort when she told him that both he and his father loved McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish burger. The ad attracted criticism that it was trivialising grief, was likely to cause distress to those who have experienced a close family death and was distasteful to compare an emotive theme to a fast food promotion. The fast food chain issued an apology and pulled the ads.

6. V.I.Poo

207 Complaints – Not upheld

A fictional Hollywood starlet shares her best kept secret on how to maintain good toilet etiquette – by using the V.I.Poo spray, an air freshener. Many people found the discussion of going to the toilet unsavoury. The ASA ruled that the ad was a light-hearted way of introducing the product and they didn’t consider its reference to the “devil’s dumplings” likely to break the rules on offence.

7. Currys PC World

131 Complaints – Not upheld

This was a TV ad about spending Christmas in front of the TV. The Currys PC World ad showed a set of parents telling their children that they would like to celebrate Christmas “traditionally” this year by sitting by the fire, singing carols and having long conversations. The mother then laughed at the visibly upset children and explained it was a joke. She led the family to the next room to show them a new Oleg TV that her employer, Currys PC World, had allowed her to bring home and test.

Complainants believed the ad was offensive because it promoted materialism and equated Christmas with watching TV instead of Christianity. The ASA thought the ad was light-hearted and was meant to be humorous and was unlikely to cause serious offence.

8. O2

125 Complaints – Not upheld

O2’s ad about free screen replacements stirred complaints when it featured two men kissing and breaking one of the couple’s phone screens when he was pressed onto a table by the other man. Many felt the scene was too sexually explicit and scheduled inappropriately at times when children were likely to be watching. Some also felt the portrayal of a same-sex relationship was offensive to their religious beliefs.

The ASA noted that the scene was brief and did not contain any graphic or overly sexual imagery. They ruled that it did not require a scheduling restriction and the depiction of a gay couple would not cause serious or widespread offence.

9. Macmillan Cancer Support

116 Complaints – Not upheld

A TV ad for Macmillan Cancer Support included fast-moving scenes of a father talking to his daughter, receiving chemotherapy, vomiting in a sink, sitting slumped in a bath, and crying in a car before being comforted by a nurse.

People complained that the imagery was overly graphic and distressing to viewers. Though the ASA understood some of the scenes, particularly the one in which the man vomited, were distressing to some viewers, they believed they served to illustrate the reality of living with cancer. The storyline of the ad and the service that Macmillan Cancer Support was advertising provided context.

10. Maltesers

92 Complaints – Not upheld

Maltesers appears in the top 10 list for a second year.

Many continued to find the featured woman, who described having a spasm during a romantic encounter with her boyfriend, to be offensive and overly sexual. Some also felt it was offensive to portray the woman, who was in a wheelchair, in this manner.

The ad had already been given a post-9pm scheduling restriction, which the ASA considered sufficient as most viewers are aware that advertising content after 9pm might include more adult themes. In instances when the ad was seen earlier in the day, the ad was seen around adult-themed programmes, such as Made in Chelsea and The Inbetweeners, and was unlikely to be considered to have been inappropriately scheduled.

The ASA found the women’s conversation to be light-hearted and didn’t think the allusion to her romantic encounter would cause serious or widespread offence. On the matter of portraying the woman in a wheelchair in this manner, the ASA believed the ad was championing diversity and did not think that it denigrated or degraded those with disabilities.

How the ASA measures offence

The decision of whether an ad is likely to cause offence is made by the 12 members of the ASA Council. They vote as a jury to decide whether to uphold complaints against the standard of causing ‘serious or widespread offence’. When making that judgement, the ASA considers several factors: the audience likely to see the ad, the context in which the ad appears, and prevailing societal standards. The ASA also commissions research into the public’s attitudes to and understanding of certain ad themes to help inform the decisions it makes and where the line is drawn.

ASA Chief Executive Guy Parker said: “Tackling misleading ads continues to be the bread and butter of our work, but 2017 again showed that it is ads that have the potential to offend that attract the highest numbers of complaints. But multiple complaints don’t necessarily mean that an ad has fallen on the wrong side of the line: we look carefully at the audience, the context and prevailing societal standards informed by public research before we decide.”