Cannabis, National Party and COVID-19 adverts among the most complained about in 2020

Snippets from a couple of the most complained about ads.
Snippets from a couple of the most complained about ads. Photo credit: New Zealand Government/NZ Drug Foundation.

The most complained about New Zealand advertisement in 2020 was a cannabis ad for the New Zealand Drug Foundation, it's been revealed.

According to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), complaints against two TV commercials promoting the 'yes' vote ahead of the cannabis referendum at last year's election were upheld in part, due to the advertiser not making its identity "sufficiently clear".

"The information identifying the advertiser appeared very briefly at the end of the advertisements," the ASA said, noting the ad was changed following complaints. 

In total, 60 people complained about the ads.

The second-most complained about ad was a billboard, and made a statement about "the Armenian occupation and aggression". This one was removed after 58 complainants said it was misleading and offensive.

Coming third with 44 formal complaints was a TV advert placed by the Government, promoting its 'Keep it Real Online' campaign and showing a man with a gun shooting a cake at a fantasy rabbit's birthday party.

"The complaints board said the content and placement of the advertisement from the New Zealand Government was justifiable on educational grounds, to address the concern that many children are currently able to access inappropriate content online," the ASA said.

Rounding out the top five were ads by the New Zealand National Party and the 'Say Nope to Dope' campaign. Both were tossed out.

Overall, the ASA said 25 percent of complaints made last year related to political advertising - a reflection election 2020 and two hotly debated referendum topics - cannabis and euthanasia.

In 2019, the most-complained about advert - a parody of zombie films for soft drink L&P - received 40 complaints, all of which were thrown out. 

The most complained about ads of 2020:

  • New Zealand Drug Foundation (ad changed)
  • Azerbaijan Diaspora (removed)
  • NZ Government - Keep it Real Online (not upheld)
  • National Party - Facebook ads about the Green Party’s water-only policy statement (not upheld)
  • Say Nope to Dope - Print ad showing a photo of a 'dope shop' with children passing by on the footpath in front and statistics including a predicted increase in drug use (no grounds to proceed)
  • New Conservative Party - A flyer including the statement "drugged drivers already cause more deaths than drunk drivers" (upheld in part)
  • Spend my Super - TV ad depicting babies moving along a conveyor belt in a factory (not upheld)
  • Ministry of Health - TV ad featuring well-known New Zealanders contributing to a message regarding the importance of uniting against COVID-19 (no grounds to proceed)
  • NZ Government, Keep it Real Online - Two of these ads make the top 10. This one suggested ways parents could engage with their children about online pornography (not upheld)
  • ASB Bank Ltd - TV ad showing a mixed-race couple arriving to view a house, when a neighbour begins playing the bagpipes loudly while wearing a Scottish kilt. Complaints the ad was culturally insensitive to Scottish people and promoted racism against mixed-race couples (removed).  

This article was amended on June 25 and the word pro was removed from the headline and first paragraph.