The ads that drove Kiwis crazy in 2016

If you're planning to advertise your business with a racist caricature, you might want to think twice.

An advert for car seller 2 Cheap Cars which featured a Japanese man repeatedly saying 'Ah so' so it sounded like 'asshole' was the most complained-about advert of 2016, the Advertising Standards Authority has revealed.

"While the advertiser agreed to remove the advertisement, they also said it had been viewed by more than 10 Japanese people and none of them found it to be offensive in any way," the ASA said. The ad, which ended with the man saying "Ah sold" received 27 complaints.

In second place was an NZTA advert showing the tragic consequences of driving while under the influence of marijuana. Fifteen people said it shouldn't be screened in primetime when kids could see it. While NZTA was happy to move the ad to a later time slot, the ASA said it had no problem with it.

A stoner lights up
Scene from the controversial NZTA advert. Photo credit: NZTA/YouTube

Greenpeace came in third with an ad blaming the dairy industry for New Zealand's polluted rivers. Complainants said that wasn't fair because it wasn't all the result of dairy farming, but the ASA said everyone already knows what Greenpeace thinks about dairy farming, and let it go.

Fourth-equal was an advert for Parallel Imported, which encouraged customers to buy TVs and drones so they could spy on their neighbours. The advert was pulled after 10 complainants pointed out that's kind of illegal.

Old Mout Cider also drew 10 complaints over an ad which implied a cider drinker's girlfriend was actually a man, and had been lying about it.

"The complainants said the ad was transphobic and implied transgender people are deceptive if they do not use the name they are given at birth."

Old Mout Cider apologised and pulled the advert.

There were fewer complaints in 2016 than the year before.

"As part of our strategic planning we identified opportunities to improve information and advice about advertising compliance," the ASA said.

"The result has been a positive increase in the number of queries about ad content prior to publication or broadcast, and a smaller number of complaints."

Rounding out the top 10 were:

  • Canon - TV ad for a printer which featured a young girl smashing a fish bowl (not upheld)
  • 2 Cheap Cars - "irritating" TV ad featuring a girl shouting about a stock liquidation sale (no grounds to proceed)
  • NZ Palestine Human Rights Campaign - billboard showing the shrinking size of Palestine since the formation of Israel (not upheld)
  • Carl's Jr - TV ad for a "3-Ways Burger" which featured a woman "salaciously enjoying a burger" (not upheld)
  • NZ Post - three people said NZ Post shouldn't have sent an email suggesting it could ship headphones containing lithium-ion batteries to New Zealand from the US (settled).

Advertising complaints in 2016, by the numbers:

  • 586 formal complaints
  • 273 queries to the ASA from advertisers before ads were published, resulting in 17 percent fewer complaints than in 2015
  • 48 of ads complained about were on TV, 31 percent digital, 8 percent 'out of home', 8 percent print, 6 radio
  • 54 percent were said to be misleading, 25 percent not socially responsible, 18 percent in breach of taste and decency, 2 percent concerned children's issues
  • 22 percent of complained about ads were for household goods, 16.5 percent transport/vehicles, 16.5 percent advocacy, 15 percent services
  • the most complained about adverts were for therapeutics, just like in 2015.