TV Advertising Agency

Are These Ads Too Controversial For TV?

Sometimes, there’s a fine line between an ad being acceptable and an ad being controversial and when British viewers decide that an ad isn’t to their prudish tastes, they do what they do best, they complain. For all the brilliant, heart-warming, engaging and universally praised ads, there are ones that court controversy with advetisers feeding off from it to provoke a reaction. The simply question here is just want is enough for an ad to be too controversial to be aired live on TV. Wading through the complaints and deciding whether to pull the plug on risque adverts is the job of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), here on some ads to ponder.


This Paddy Power ad about blind football received over 1,000 complaints with viewers concerned the ad could promote animal cruelty after the ad suggests a cat was kicked across the field of play. However, the ASA decided against banning the ad as they did not deem the ad as offensive.


Despite Dave’s epic strut, this ad received over 1,500 complaints, making it the most complained about advert of 2015. The gyrating ad didn’t seem to bother the ASA who decided not to uphold the complaints as the ad to them did not breach their code.

This upsetting ad by Barnardo’s highlighting domestic child abuse garnered almost 500 complaints with concerns that the ad was too distressful for children to watch due to the repeated scenes of violence and drug taking. In the end, the ad was approved because it was only aired from after 9pm to ensure it only aired within adult programme content. ruffled plenty of feathers with a number of their ads, this one in particular receiving over 2,000 complaints because of the word “booking” being used as a substitute to a swear word. However, despite the complaints, the ASA cleared the campaign, described the substitution of words as word-play so they didn’t feel the campaign was offensive.

Go Compare have annoyed lots of people over the years with their cheesy, repetitive adverts starring much maigned star, Gio Compario. It’s no surprise that a Go Compare ad features in this list as former England footballer Stuart Pearce decides to show Gio what he really thinks of him. The “violent” ad received almost 2,000 complaints although I’m not sure whether the complaints are because people don’t like this particular ad or because they don’t like Go Compare ads in general.

Phones4U tried to give people the willies with this eerie ad featuring a spooky little girl haunting a woman in a parking lot. The ad which tried to entice people with its new deal was cleared despite the ASA acknowledging that the ad could cause concern among children watching the ad.

An martial-arts themed ad by Volkswagen, starring an engineer fighting multiples doppelgangers inside a Volkswagen factory, with the ad including a voiceover saying that sometimes it’s only yourself that you have to beat. Despite over 1,000 complaints, the ad was cleared but only on the basis that the ad only appeared after 9pm.

KFC got themselves into hot water with an ad that racked up over 1,500 complaints which some accused would encourage bad manners among children. Although the ad was not to everyone’s taste, the ad was still cleared for transmittion.

Despite all these cases where the ASA have cleared these controversial ads for transmition despite there being concerns raised, there are cases where ads have been pulled from transmittion.

This ad by fitness brand For Goodness Shakes was banned from transmittion even though the ASA initiated the banned from just ONE complaint. The ad which features a number of men shaking unseen objects from below the waist before finding out the object was in fact a bottle was flagged because it features references to male masturbation.

A graphic ad by Wrigleys portraying bad breath as a dog coming out of a man’s mouth. The gross ad received over 700 complaints with the ASA deciding to withdrawn the ad from live air because of concerns the ad would cause distress and disgust among young viewers.

VIP broke a long established taboo by advertising someone smoking, albeit vapping, however it’s the manner of the ads that VIP aired that many people were upset about as the ad depicted vapping as glamourous alongside sexual innuendo leaving a very crude taste among viewers. The ads were banned multiple times, the ads unsuitable for transmittion even though they were aired after the watershed. This ad here was so racy, it never even made it to TV.

At the end of the day, advertisers will occasionally try to bend the rules of advertising in order to get the desired result, regardless of whether everyone who sees the ads are happy with them or not. Some bend them to success while others overstep the mark but that’s why the ASA as well as OFCOM are there as independent regulatory bodies to sift through the alleged offences and decide whether any ads in the firing line are offensive enough to be given the hook from transmittion.