Top 10 most complained about ads of 2012

From a warbling opera singer being whacked in the warblers, to a naked man promoting ham, and a dog with worrying eating habits, the ASA has revealed the top 10 most complained about ads of 2012. We reveal them here in reverse order…

10. St John Ambulance
144 complaints – Not upheld

This TV ad showed a man and his family coping with his cancer diagnosis, treatment and eventual recovery, only for him to die from choking to death because nobody nearby knew basic first aid Although the portrayal was distressing for some, the ASA felt the overall message of the ad – that learning simple first aid techniques could avoid tragedy – was justifiable.

9. Kayak Software Corporation
189 complaints – Upheld in part

The ASA ruled the TV ad, which gave a worryingly lighthearted take on a man receiving brain surgery, would be likely to cause stress without justifiable reason, especially to viewers who had been affected by the type of treatment portrayed in the ad. The watchdog did not uphold complaints the ad was offensive.

8. Morrison Supermarkets
234 complaints – Not upheld

This ad prompted a number of complaints from vets, dog charities and dog lovers that it was irresponsible and harmful because it implied it was acceptable to feed Christmas pudding to dogs (consumer grapes and raisins can cause renal failure and sometimes death in the animals). The ASA, however, did not think the ad implied it was acceptable to copy the behaviour and that most dog owners would be aware of the toxicity of such food to their pets.

8. Kellogg’s
234 complaints – Not upheld

More than 200 viewers complained Kellogg’s version of snakes on a grain (sorry) was unduly distressing. The ASA acknowledged some viewers may find the theme of the Crunchy Nut Cornflakes ad distasteful but that most would view it as comical rather than graphic.


6. Paddy Power
311 complains – Out of remit

Viewers of this online video from the provocative bookmaker thought it was offensive to members of the transgender community. The channel was registered in Ireland, so the ad fell outside of the ASA’s remit, although it did uphold a small number of complaints about the same ad when it appeared on TV.

5. Kerry Foods
371 complaints – Upheld in part

The “Richmond Ham bum man”, as he was affectionately known on the Marketing Week news desk, sparked a hot debate on our website. The ASA ruled the nudity in the TV ad was not offensive but agreed with complainants that referring to the product as “Britain’s only ham” would be interpreted as meaning the product was British in origin – which was not the case.

4. Channel 4
373 complaints – Upheld in part

Complaints about this poster and press campaign for Channel 4’s My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding show said the ads were offensive, racist and unfairly denigrated and degraded Gypsy and Traveller communities. After a request from the Independent Reviewer of ASA Adjudications to re-open the ASA’s investigation, it agreed some of the ads were offensive and irresponsible.

Channel 4 Gypsy Wedding ad

3. Asda
620 complaints – Not upheld

This ad, which featured a mother carrying out tasks in preparation for Christmas while her family lazily looked on, also sparked a fierce debate on the Marketing Week site as to whether it was sexist. The ASA did not uphold complaints saying it reflected Asda’s view of the Christmas experience for a significant number of its customers.

797 complaints – Not upheld

Sue Barker wielding a rocket launcher was certainly a sight to behold, but it was also a sight for sore eyes for almost 800 viewers. The ASA ruled the ad was not offensive or harmful because it showed over the top and fantastical behaviour and would be seen as light-hearted and comical and noted that Gio Compario was shown as not harmed at the end of the ad.

1,008 – Not upheld

In its second and highest entry in the top 10 featured former footballer Stuart “Psycho” Pearce kicking a football into poor, abused Compario. The ASA ruled the ad was not offensive, irresponsible or harmful, because the ad was not explicit or gruesome and would be seen as light-hearted and comical.

Latest from Marketing Week

How to bounce back from redundancy

bounce back

Being made redundant can knock your confidence and make you doubt your abilities. But the advice from those who have experienced it is to start networking, reassess you career direction and come back stronger.


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