Most complained-about ads of the past decade revealed

Start-ups can spice up their marketing with more risqué material but shouldn’t rely on it, an expert says, after the advertising watchdog released its most complained-about advertisements on record.  


Jo Macdermott, founder and director of Next Marketing, says there’s a fine line between what is considered controversial and that which is deemed offensive, so start-ups need to tread carefully.  


“I have a client who is in hospitality. They had some Friday night drinks promotions and there was perhaps an undertone of ‘Friday night drinks – you never know who you’ll meet’,” she says.  


“For that brand, it was almost crossing the line. [Material with sexual connotations is] a way to get noticed but it’s also a way to turn people off your brand.”  


Macdermott’s comments come after the Advertising Standards Bureau released a list of its most complained-about advertisements since 1999.  


The top spot went to food franchise Nando’s, which aired a television advertisement in 2007 featuring a businesswoman claiming she can’t afford to have cravings at work.  


The woman is then seen pole-dancing in a G-string at a club, before sitting down to eat Nando’s with her family.  


The advertisement received 359 complaints but remained on the air after being dismissed by the ASB.  


The second most complained-about ad, attracting 284 complaints, went to a 2006 TV ad for Mentos. The ad shows a man’s nipples growing as he walks around town eating Mentos mints.  


In third place was a 2007 billboard advertisement, from the Advanced Medical Institute, displaying the words “Want longer lasting sex?” The ad attracted 265 complaints.  


Macdermott says if there’s scope to do something “a bit tongue-in-cheek”, then it’s worth doing. However, businesses need to determine whether people will be offended in the process.  


“If your target market was not in the offended group, perhaps it’s more of a go than a no,” she says.  


“However, I would advise against making such material part of an ongoing campaign. You might do it once a couple of times a year to spice things up.”  


Macdermott says social media plays an increasingly important role in the way in which people respond to controversies, advertising included.


“The crude and crass nature of advertising will always be there but perhaps people are more sensitive to it now because of social media, which can highlight it a lot more quickly,” she says.  


“Twenty years ago, you could put a billboard up and no’s going to be talking about it on Twitter. Now, people are driving past and tweeting about it.”  


“It can be on Twitter within seconds. A conversation can start online that doesn’t always go the way a brand anticipated.”  


The most complained about ads since 1999:

1. Nando’s TV commercial (2007)


A woman in a business suit describes how she can’t afford to have cravings at work. She is then seen pole-dancing and wearing a G-string in a club, before sitting down to eat Nando’s with her family.

Number of complaints: 359


2. Mentos Ice Chewing Gum TV commercial (2006)


A man’s nipples get longer as he eats Mentos as he walks around town.


Number of complaints: 284


3. Advanced Medical Institute billboard (2007)


Billboard displaying “Want longer lasting sex?”, initially dismissed by the board but banned in 2008 after a later appeal.


Number of complaints: 265

4. Advanced Medical Institute TV commercial (2010)


A woman is trying to reach for a cookie jar in a cupboard but cannot reach. She calls to her husband to help. She then appears to stand on his erect penis to obtain the required height to reach the jar.


Number of complaints: 227

5. Queensland Association for Health Communities billboard (2011)


The ad portrays two gay men hugging and a tagline saying “Rip & Roll” with a picture of a condom on it.


Number of complaints: 222

6. Advanced Medical Institute TV commercial (2005)


Two men in tuxedos standing behind a grand piano drop their pants and underwear and start playing the piano with their penises.


Number of complaints: 217

Equal 7.  Quit Victoria TV commercial (2006)


Depiction of a woman showing the effects of mouth cancer.


Number of complaints: 207

Equal 7. Tooheys New TV commercial (2004)


Golfers depicted clubbing cane toads over the New South Wales border, pulled by Lion Nathan two days after airing.


Number of complaints: 207

8. Kotex U tampons TV commercial (2008)


A beaver accompanies a young woman during her daily activities, with the voiceover: “You only have one of them, so for the ultimate care down there, make it U.”


Number of complaints: 195

9. Ingham’s Chicken TV commercial (2008)


Ads feature the tagline: “There’s something wrong with you if you don’t like chicken.”


Number of complaints: 181


10. Tooheys Extra Dry TV commercial (2003)


A tongue leaves a sleeping man to go in search of beer.


Number of complaints: 169


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