Asda, Morrisons and Barclaycard’s Christmas ads have all prompted complaints to the advertising watchdog this week for being “sexist” and “reinforcing negative stereotypes”.

The volume of complaints against the Asda ad – more than 186 in the days since it 4 November launch at the time of writing – has prompted the ASA into launching a formal investigation into the spot to judge whether it is at odds with the CAP advertising code and should be banned.

The watchdog has not yet decided whether it will launch a probe into the Morrisons or Barclaycards spots, which have received far fewer complaints by comparison.

The Asda ad sparked a fierce debate on social media, with campaign group Fathers4Justice encouraging supporters to complain to the ASA, and more than 1,000 forum posts on the Mumsnet website in less than 24 hours after its launch.

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet’s founder, says while there is nothing wrong with celebrating mothers and women, brands must be careful to recognise there is more than one type of family.

“Asda went down the commonly used stereotype route with a mother running around, a slightly feckless father and not very helpful kids. It doesn’t feel very 21st century,” she adds.

Brands can win viewer loyalty with their family-framed ads by being “more progressive”, “breaking down stereotypes” and “celebrating the reality and heroism of parenthood”, according to Wolff Olins senior strategist Manlio Minale.

Campaigns such as Mamas & Papas’ “How we roll” campaign, which depicted single sex families and single parents, and Ikea and JC Penney campaigns in the US featuring gay couples have helped brands set the agenda and reflect modern family life, Manlio adds.

Asda and its advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi say they used insight from Asda’s rolling “Mumdex” survey of 4,000 mums to help shape the ad to appeal to the supermarket’s customers, 80 per cent of which are mothers.

Mark Tungate, author of Branded Male, argues the Asda advert is an example of “what happens when you bend over so far backwards to please your target audience that you lose sight of reality”.

He adds the “cliché” of the “useless dad” in the spot and the overall premise lack the warmth and connection brands should be striving to achieve with their audiences at this time of year.

Lynne Barcoe, founder of specialist mum insight and marketing consultancy MumPanel, says Asda should involve mums and the family in the development of the ad rather than basing the ad entirely on Mumdex data.

An Asda spokesman apologised to any mums and dads who were upset by the Christmas ad. He adds: “Our ad depicts what many of the 16 million mums who shop in Asda tell us they feel. It is intended to be light-hearted and fun and in the main that’s how it’s been received.”