A television ad that featured married men singing about their search for “someone other than my wife” was the most complained about ad in Australia this year.
The ad for dating site Ashley Madison received 481 complaints, giving it the honour of the ad most complained about to the Advertising Standards Board in 2014.
The high number of viewers who took issue with the commercial also made it the most complained about ad since 1998, surpassing a 2007 ad from fast food chain Nando’s, which had received 359 complaints.
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However, the Ad Standards Board dismissed the complaints about the Ashley Madison ad, as it did for the nine other most complained about ads this year.
Personalised number plate business My Plates secured three spots in the top 10 most complained about ads this year, with a commercial featuring a man passing wind in his car coming in at second place with 250 complaints.
A My Plates ad featuring a man picking his nose and wiping it on a car door was the fourth most complained about ad, while a pixelated version of the same commercial received 180 complaints, making it the seventh most complained about ad.
Menulog’s Da Vinci-inspired ad received 228 complaints, making it the third most complained about ad, while two ads about menstruation products from Johnson & Johnson were placed fifth (185 complaints) and ninth (146 complaints) on the list.
An advertisement from car services company Ultra Tune, which was petitioned against for its use of sexualised imagery, was the sixth most complained about ad, attracting 181 complaints to the advertising watchdog, while a Melbourne billboard featuring an image of a dead horse was the eighth most complained about ad with 152 complaints.
Rounding out the top 10 was an ad from Meat and Livestock Australia, which featured Sam Kekovich promoting the consumption of lamb on Australia Day. The ad attracted 80 complaints.
Overall, the Ad Standards Board said it received 5600 complaints this year, the highest number of complaints recorded since 1998.
Complaints were received about 552 ads, an increase from last year, but less than the 595 ads complained about in 2009. Of the ads that were found by the board to breach the code, most received fewer than five complaints.
Advertising expert and Melbourne University senior lecturer Dr Lauren Rosewarne told SmartCompany the level of complaints received this year shows how easy it is for an individual to write a letter to complain to the Advertising Standards Board.
But Rosewarne says only complaints that are tied specifically to one of the guidelines in the advertising code of conduct will be upheld.
“If you have complained because you are personally offended, but if it doesn’t relate to any of the guidelines, the advertising standards board has a very easy job to dismiss it on taste grounds,” she says.
While Rosewarne says the advertising watchdog will often uphold ads that contravene safety guidelines, it will not uphold complaints purely on moral grounds.
“A lot of people don’t understand how advertising is overseen in Australia,” Rosewarne says.
“It is based on a self-regulated industry code of conduct but there is no legislation. Most people will have a gut instinct against infidelity [as depicted in the Ashley Madison ad] but it is not illegal in Australia. There is nothing in the advertising code about it.”
Michelle Gamble of Marketing Angels agrees, telling SmartCompany some of the ads in this list may be difficult to watch or personally offensive, but “the advertising board cannot simply uphold complaints because they are in bad taste”.
The most complained about ads this year:
1. Ashley Madison – Avid Life
2. My Plates
4. My Plates
5. Johnson & Johnson
6. Ultra Tune
7. My Plates
8. Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses
9. Johnson & Johnson
10. Meat and Livestock Australia