The most complained about ads of 2013

An ad for e-cigarette brand VIP that attracted 937 complaints about its ‘overtly sexual’ tone topped the list of most complained about ads of last year.

The ad featured a woman pleading: “I want you to get it out. I want to see it. Feel it. Hold it. Put it in my mouth. I want to see how great it tastes” – an innuendo laden request to borrow a VIP e-cigarette.

The Advertising Standards Authority took issue with its scheduling and ordered it could only be aired after 11pm.

Unilever’s ‘End Marmite Neglect’ was second. The ASA received 738 complaints that the spot, featuring a parody rescue unit travelling around the UK recovering “neglected” jars of Marmite left at the back of cupboards, trivialised the work of animal rescue units.

It was not formally investigated, however, after the ASA decided it was unlikely to cause widespread offence.

Elsewhere, the Home Office’s ‘Go Home’ campaign was fourth on the list. The campaign saw vans driving around London featuring handcuffs next to text stating “In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest”. It also trumpeted the number of arrests made in the area the van was circulating.

Although cleared of being offensive it was banned for being misleading because the arrest numbers could not be substantiated.

The list (see full top 10 below) was revealed in the ASA’s annual report, which covers calendar year 2013.

The watchdog received  31,136 complaints about 18,580 ads in the year, down slightly on 2012. More than 4,000 (4,161) were banned, up 12.5 per cent on 2012.

1 VIP, 937 complaints upheld in part.

2 Marmite’s ‘End Marmite Neglect’, 738 complaints not upheld.

3 Flora Buttery, – 513 complaints (not upheld) that a scene showing children entering their parents bedroom to find them wrestling was inappropriate.

4 Home Office’s ’Go Home’ ad, 251 complaints upheld in part.

Home office van

5 Irn-Bru’s ’Embarrassing Mum’ ad –  223 complaints (not upheld) that the sight of a mum pressing her son’s head against her chest was offensive.

6 Bertolli’s ‘Naked Man’ ad –  201 complaints (not upheld) that a scene showing a naked man robbed of his towel by the dog of a group of old women objectified men.

7 Red Bull’s ’Titanic’ ad – 179 complaints (not upheld) that the ad’s message – that the Titanic should have allowed crates of the energy drink on-board – made light of the tragedy.

Red Bull Titanic

8 E45 – 167 complaints (not upheld) that its central character’s admission she was “hooked” on moisturising cream normalised drug use.

9 Pussy Drinks – 159 complaints (upheld in part) that the name of the brand’s website was “sexually explicit” and therefore offensive.

Pussy drinks

10 Cancer Research – 154 complaints (not upheld) that lines such as  ”Up Your’s Cancer” and “Cancer, you prat” were unsuitable for children.



Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington on how brands can help consumers ‘thrive’

Lara O'Reilly

In Arianna Huffington’s latest book, Thrive, the HuffPost founder and serial entrant in Forbes’ ‘Most Powerful Women” list, explains how people should redefine the idea of success beyond money and power to a third metric that encompasses “wellbeing, wisdom, wonder and giving”. Speaking to Marketing Week ahead of delivering an address at WACL’s (Women in Advertising and Communications, London) speaker dinner event in London this week, Huffington explained how marketers can help their brands adopt the worthy principles of the third metric of success to help their consumers thrive.


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