The most controversial adverts of 2019 revealed

The most-complained about advertisement last year was a parody of zombie films for L&P, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has revealed. 

The television commercial showed " two zombies exploring a post-apocalyptic cityscape" who find a can of the popular soft drink. 

"Complainants said the advertisement was in poor taste and harmful to the mental health of children and other vulnerable people," the ASA said. "The advertiser said it was a light-hearted and humorous parody of 'zomedy' movies."

Those 40 complaints were thrown out because being "distasteful" is not against the rules if it wouldn't offend most people.

A scene from the L&P commercial.
A scene from the L&P commercial. Photo credit: Coca-Cola Amatil

The second-most complained about advert also aired on TV, and it showed "an athlete running on a treadmill while breathing air coming directly out of the exhaust pipes of a Hyundai NEXO vehicle". Unsurprisingly this one was deemed not okay and was taken off air after 34 people complained.

Coming in third with nine formal complaints was a social media advert placed by the National Party, which used graphs not drawn to scale to give the impression rents were going up more under the present Government than when National was in charge. 

"Complainants said the graph was misleading as it was not to scale and the data was wrong. The advertiser said the data figures were prominent on the graphic which meant that any hyperbole would not be misleading."

The ad made headlines, with the ASA ultimately ruling in favour of National, saying it was "unlikely to mislead most consumers when viewed within a political advocacy landscape on the party's social media platforms".

This was the first year advocacy issues were the most-complained about adverts, chief executive Hilary Souter said, overtaking those for therapeutics and health. 

"The 2019 local elections, the legalisation of cannabis, water fluoridation and proposed changes to abortion legislation, along with political party social media advertising drove the increase."

Seven complaints each were laid about advocacy adverts from the Royal Forest And Bird Protection Society and Family First. 

Dairy farmers felt targeted by the former's ad, which included a voiceover asking "What happened to rivers you could swim in? When did the Government put profits before clean water?" Family First's was a billboard claiming "marijuana has a kid's menu". 

Both sets of complaints were thrown out, saying it was clear in each case the identity of the advertiser was clear and advocacy was allowed. 

The top five was rounded out by an ad for a vaping device which implied it was safe to use - the ASA saw it differently, and the ad was removed. 

Overall, complaints were up 9 percent in 2019 to 698. Of those, 43 percent were for ads on TV, 14 percent for social media, 14 percent advertiser's website, 10 percent billboards, 10 percent print, 6 percent radio, and 2 percent junk mail. 

On social media and the web, Facebook ads made up 64 percent of complaints, Twitter 12 percent, Instagram 10 percent, YouTube 6 percent, and display ads 6 percent. 

Forty-five percent of complaints claimed the ad was misleading, and 44 percent that they breached social responsibility rules. 

About half of all complaints were found to have no grounds for the complaint to proceed. 

In 2018, the most-complained about advert - an anti-vaccination billboard - received a whopping 146 formal complaints. 

This article was amended on June 2 2020 when a sentence was amended to reflect half the complaints were found to have no grounds to proceed.