The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the UK’s independent regulator of advertising, is out with their list of 2016’s most complained about ads and the top ten is comprised of only commercials which upset due to causing offense and not over making false claims.
Some of those ads received complaints of a homophobic variety. None of the ads with the most complaints against them were banned.
MoneySuperMarket.com landed on the list not once, not twice, but three times, with their series of ads featuring men having a seductive dance-off, including a man in heels and tight shorts.
An ad for Match.com landed in the top ten for including a female couple, who are shown kissing. It received over 800 complaints.
“Deciding whether an ad should be banned for causing offense is a judgement call and decision-making in this area inevitably involves a degree of subjectivity,” the ASA said in a statement. “That’s why, when making our decisions, we take into account the audience that is likely to see the ad, the context in which the ad appears, the product it is promoting and prevailing standards in society. To help judge prevailing standards in society, we commission consumer research to find out what concerns people and where they think the line should be drawn on matters of offense.”
ASA Chief Executive Guy Parker explained further:
The ads that attract the highest number of complaints are often not the ones that need banning. Our action leads to thousands of ads being amended or withdrawn each year, mostly for being misleading, but there wasn’t one misleading ad in the Top 10.
In the list there are a number of ads, which while advertising their product or service, have also sought to present a positive statement about diversity but were in fact seen by some as doing the opposite. In all those cases, we thought people generally would see the ads in a positive light and that the boundary between bad taste and serious or widespread offense had been navigated well enough, often through using sensible scheduling restrictions.
Advertising that pushes the boundaries invariably lands better with some people than others. But last year we thought the ads that attracted the largest number of complaints fell the right side of the line.
Parker also published a follow-up opinion piece on Monday, where he made much the same argument. In that piece, he added:
Last year, a number of the ads that made the Top 10 most complained about ads contained diversity and inclusion related elements. From burly men twerking in denim shorts and heels, to two women kissing, to members of the England Blind Football team allowing themselves to be the butt of a joke, to a wheelchair-using woman alluding to her active sex life.
Whilst many people saw those elements as presenting some positive messages about diversity, for example by helping to normalize characteristics, attitudes and sexual orientations that aren’t the most prevalent in our society, some others saw them as doing precisely the opposite. For example, we received complaints that one of the Moneysupermarket ads was homophobic and could encourage hate crimes.