Most complained about ads of 2011

Unsurprisingly, Phones 4 U’s spooky dead girl ads were the most complained about ads from last year, according to the Advertising Standards Authority, closely followed by Littlewoods’ ad, which accidentally nearly ruined Christmas for many by showing up Santa as a fraud.

Read the Full Top 10 list and see the ads here.

1: Phones 4 U

The ad which showed a scary ghost girl haunting people with deals attracted 659 complaints that the ads were “offensive, irresponsible, unduly distressing and inappropriately scheduled at a time when children might see them”. The ASA was not spooked by them however, and she was able to go on haunting the airwaves uncensored.

2: Shop Direct Home Shopping – (Littlewoods)

Littlewoods was in the docks for ruining Christmas by implying that Santa wasn’t real and that mums did all the hard work at Christmas, not the fat man with the beard and red suit. Despite 585 complaints, the ad didn’t break any rules.

3: CSL

CSL, the furniture retailer, attracted 260 complaints that three models dancing around a sofa wearing lingerie was ” distasteful and gratuitous”, the ASA ruled that the ad wasn’t “problematic”.

4: Unilever UK – Lynx

Lynx came under fire for its sexy parody of the biblical tale of Noah’s Ark, where a man attracted hoards of women by wearing Lynx body spray. There were 214 complaints that the brand “mocked Christianity”, was demeaning to women and upset children by discussing the end of the world. The ASA, however, deemed the ad contained nothing harmful or seriously offensive.

5: Travel Palestine

Travel Palestine

The first partially upheld ad in the Top 10 most complained about was a travel ad that suggested that Palestine was a recognised country and areas, including Jerusalem, were in Palestinian-administered territory. The 149 complaints led the ASA to warn the advertiser that it should not suggest that it is universally accepted that the locations are part of Palestine.

6: SSL International – Durex

Durex courted controversy with a condom ad shown before the watershed. The ASA did not uphold 126 complaints that it was unsuitable to be seen by children, because it contained no “graphic images or content”.

7: Unilever UK – Lynx

Lynx makes its second appearance in the Top 10 with a cheeky poster ad using the strapline “the cleaner you are the dirtier you get”. The ad ruled that the strapline, along with the image of a woman in an outdoor shower wearing an undone bikini was “likely to cause offence” after 114 complaints.

8: Phones 4 U

Phones 4 U Jesus ad

Welcome back Phones 4 U. This time a national press ad for “miraculous deals” featuring a cartoon of Jesus grinning and winking. The ad attracted 98 complaints and was banned because it was deemed to be disrespectful to the Christian faith and likely to cause serious offence, as it was scheduled during Easter.

9: The Money Advice Service

money advice service

The Money Advice Service escaped censure for an ad that attracted 80 complaints that is was misleading.

10: Phones 4 U

Propping up the Top 10, Phones 4 U’s third entry comes this time, in the form of zombies. a TV ad featuring a man being chased by zombies attracted complaints that it was unsuitable for children. Despite 79 complaints, the undead, like Phones 4 U’s ghost girl before them, escaped censure from the watchdog because its post-7:30 restriction meant it was unlikely children would be watching it alone.

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here