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The most offensive adverts of all time?

By piranha

30th May 2012

A recent list of the most complained-about adverts of all time, released by the UK’s advertising watchdog has shown some surprising results!

The advertising watchdog has put together the adverts from the past fifty years that have gathered the most complaints, to coincide with its 50th anniversary.

We would all be forgiven for expecting sex, swearing, animal cruelty or violence to provoke an outcry from viewers but we would be far off the mark in guessing what upset the viewers the most.

Top of the list with a record 1,671 complaints is an advert for Kentucky Fried Chicken that was aired in 2005. The advert showed a call centre full of workers singing with their mouths full of food.

Also on the list was a poster advert for Opium perfume, featuring model Sophie Dahl recycling on a fur rug wearing only a pair of strappy sandals and some jewellery, a TV advert featuring a blind footballer kicking a cat across a football pitch and a leaflet from the British Safety Council in 1995 showing the Pope wearing a hat with the strap line ‘The Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt always wear a condom’.

Even more surprising was the failure of some of the earlier trendsetters to make it into the top ten – Benetton led the way in the early 1990 with its use of shock tactics but were noticeable by their absence.

Over the last five decades, the number of complaints has risen significantly. In 2011 the ASA dealt with approximately 31,000 complaints, bringing the total number of complaints to around 431,000.

Claire Beale, editor of Campaign Magazine says “In recent years it has become much easier to complain via the web” and claims that the advertising industry has invited complaints as it aims to maintain its self-regulatory position. Beale goes on to say “Clearly KFC was trying to create an ad that people talked about, and that stood out in the increasingly crowded ad break.

“In doing so, they strayed too far beyond what’s reasonably acceptable behaviour in commercials and clearly touched a sensitive nerve with parents who felt they were setting a bad example to children merely to create some shock value that would raise the profile of the commercial”.

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