ASA rubbishes public's TV ad complaints in brutal best-of list

  • 15/08/2018

Jihee Junn writing for The Spinoff

You've seen the terrible ads, now it's time you see the terrible complaints. With crimes ranging from blasphemy and bad timelines to 'the homosexual agenda', we present a small selection of the most entertaining complaints that have been dismissed by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) so far this year.

People love to complain, and sometimes rightly so. One of the most complained about ads to the ASA last year featured two pint-sized men being shot with a nail gun in an egregious breach of workplace health and safety measures. But then people complain about ads for products like the VI Poo toilet spray (which traps "the icky smell of your devil's doughnuts") as being inappropriate, disgusting, and socially uncomfortable, and everything just becomes funny again.

In addition to its latest decision ruling that Griffin's ad for its new white chocolate Toffee Pops did not have "racist overtones" (although a minority of the Complaints Board did agree that the ad had a "judgmental tone" in singling out the white chocolate biscuit for looking different), we pick out nine more of the most entertaining complaints made to (and rubbished by) the ASA so far this year in all their misspelled, verbatim glory.

Not enough broccoli (June 2018)


What was the ad? This slightly awkward TV ad features Olympic rower Hamish Bond talking about the taste and nutritional benefits of Watties SteamFresh microwaveable vegetables. Bond proceeds to microwave, empty, and eat the vegetables from this "special steam bag", which includes peas, carrots and broccoli. 

What was the complaint? The complainant, who clearly takes their vegetable ratios seriously, said that:

"The advert shows a frozen steamed vegetable pack with equal portions of broccoli, carrots and peas. If anything the advert shows it weighted in favour of more broccoli. I have bought several of these and the broccoli is usually very underrepresented in the actual packs so therefore I say it is misleading advertising."

What was the decision? The Chair said the Complainant's experience with the amount of broccoli they received did not make the advertisement misleading. The Chair ruled there were no grounds for the complaint to proceed.

"Surely that lady has had baby number three" (June 2018)


What was the ad? The Oxfam television advertisement highlights the refugee crisis in Bangladesh and features a woman called Lyla. The voice-over says in part: "Lyla is 18, pregnant and has two children. They fled for their lives with only the clothes they wore and her husband is missing…"

What was the complaint? The complainant, seemingly less concerned about the humanitarian crisis and more concerned about accurate timelines, said that:

"This ad has been playing for months, surely that lady has had baby number three and maybe number four. These ads are not accurate at all so it's false advertising!!"

What was the decision? The Chair said the images used in the advertisement were illustrative of the particular needs of refugee families in an area of crisis. The Chair ruled there were no grounds for the complaint to proceed.

"A complete waste of good food is what she calls it" (May 2018)


What was the ad? The television advertisement for Dettol Wipes shows a mother wiping over the kitchen surfaces with a raw chicken leg, while a voiceover says "Wiping germy surfaces with a sponge can be just as bad as doing that. Dettol disinfection wipes kill 99.9 percent of germs instead of spreading them around. To help protect your family - Dettol that!"

What was the complaint? There were - can you believe - not one but two complaints about this unholy ad. One complainant, who was writing in on behalf of their mother, said that:

"She is worried about the use of raw chicken as a cleaning product when there is so much hunger and poverty in the world. A complete waste of good food is what she calls it."

The second complainant had this to say:

"Detol spray and wipe ad featuring the mother wiping the bench with a chicken leg is disgusting and a vivid display of animal cruelty it should not be aired on TVNZ."

What was the decision? The Chair ruled that cleaning a kitchen top with a raw piece of chicken "did not reach the threshold to be considered socially irresponsible" and that "there was no suggestion of animal cruelty in the advertisement". The Chair ruled there were no grounds for the complaint to proceed (twice).

"A sip should be enough" (May 2018)


What was the ad? A TV ad for Powerade shows Steven Adams playing a game of basketball and stopping to take a drink. The voiceover says: "He's got the speed, the build and the power to be a game changer. Just like Powerade's superior hydration system, with the speed, the design and the power to deliver fast hydration…"

What was the complaint? Speaking from personal experience, the complainant said that:

"Having been a professional dancer in my youth, we were not allowed, when we came offstage after an energetic dance or between dances to drink fluid as when we went back on stage it would 'slosh' in our stomachs. We could wet our mouths with a provided wedge of orange, but had to take care not to get a fragment stuck in our throat which could cause coughing or choking. The over-hydration craze these days shouldn't be demonstrated in such an overdone manner. A sip should be enough. I know the ad is about POWER, but the huge, bottle crunching final major squirt is a dangerous over the top image."

What was the decision? The Chair said that "a level of hyperbole was permissible in advertising to demonstrate a particular product feature such as a precise water flow cap and squeezable bottle". The Chair ruled there were no grounds for the complaint to proceed.

Matt McLean whispering under the covers (May 2018)


What was the ad? A Vodafone advertisement to promote the National Sleep-in Day cancer fundraising campaign features Breakfast presenter Matt McLean in bed. He says: "You could help fight cancer simply by sleeping. Next week I'll be sleeping-in live on Breakfast with some special guests." He lifts the covers and tells those underneath to "stop moving and ruining the shot".

What was the complaint? The complainant's gripe with the ad was simple, stating that:

"[The] Vodafone sleep in for cancer advert is very sexual with the man in bed and whispering under the covers."

What was the decision? The Chair said the cancer fundraising campaign "gave context to the presenter sitting in bed and was not graphic or salacious in nature", adding that the people hidden under the covers were intended to "build suspense about who the special guests were going to be" and not imply a sexual agenda. The Chair ruled there were no grounds for the complaint to proceed.

Breakfast presenter Matt McLean.
Breakfast presenter Matt McLean. Photo credit: File

Phallic deodorant (April 2018)


What was the ad? A TV ad for Rexona Invisible Sweat plays on the concept of 'invisible' by showing people participating in activities such as riding an invisible bicycle. The ad says: "Rexona. Fight odour, sweat and stains." The advertisement (slightly different from the one embedded below) concludes with a picture of the various sizes of the deodorant product and states "also available for women."

What was the complaint? The complainant, who seems to subscribe to the belief that anything can look like a phallus if you stare at it long enough, said:

"The commercial promotes the product correctly as reducing white or yellow stains by use of the product. It shows male models to show this. However, the final closing of the ad I feel inappropriately and excessively sexualises the product. It does this by showing the product in three sizes ALL of which appear to be similar in shape to ADULT SEX TOYS. The last addition says the product is also available for women. The text of WOMEN is written in larger text than the rest of the line, thereby accentuating the suggestive nature of the packaging. The advert is not to promote a company selling adult sex products and is likely to have been shown at an earlier time than that noted in my observation."

What was the decision? The Chair said the advertisement was showing the actual products and it was "unlikely most consumers would equate the shape of the containers with adult sex toys". The Chair ruled there were no grounds for the complaint to proceed.

Inciting terrorism (March 2018)


What was the ad? A Holden TV spot shows a man and a child driving, with the man raising an index finger in acknowledgement of drivers coming in the opposite direction. The boy asks what the gesture means and is told it is about the "1 percent finance rate across the Holden range".

What was the complaint? Complainant and Foreign Affairs subscriber, T Brewster, said:

"When actors showing one finger saying that it signifies 1 percent interest on a loan to buy a is also the ISIS salute… The Islamic State militants, known as ISIS, are now using a single, raised index finger as the symbol of their cause. It's a well-known sign of power and victory around the world, but for ISIS, it has a more sinister meaning.

Nathaniel Zelinsky writes in Foreign Affairs that the gesture refers to the tawhid, 'the belief in the oneness of God and a key component of the Muslim religion.' More specifically, though, it refers to their fundamentalist interpretation of the tawhid, which rejects any other view, including other Islamic interpretations, as idolatry. Mr Zelinsky writes that when ISIS uses the gesture, it is affirming an ideology that demands the destruction of the West, as well as any form of pluralism. For potential recruits around the globe, it also shows their belief that they will dominate the world. I don't think that's it very appropriate for today's society."

What was the decision? The Chair noted the drivers in the advertisement raised their finger while their hands remained on the steering wheel which was a very different gesture to that used by Islamic State militants. The Chair ruled there were no grounds for the complaint to proceed.

"Islamic State militants, known as ISIS, are now using a single, raised index finger as the symbol of their cause."
"Islamic State militants, known as ISIS, are now using a single, raised index finger as the symbol of their cause." Photo credit: Holden / YouTube

"This advertisement is deeply upsetting to me and a lot of other males" (February 2018)


What was the ad? In a radio ad (yes, it's not a TV ad) for Garden Hotel Restaurant in Christchurch, you hear a man cooking dinner for his partner and he says "Happy Valentines Day my love". The woman is heard saying "Oh Greg, I didn't know you could cook!" followed by the woman in a shrill voice saying "Beans on toast and instant pudding! Does our love mean nothing to you?" A crashing sound and a male voice groaning can be heard and the voiceover says "The DIY approach probably won't go down well this Valentines Day, but a candlelit dinner at the Garden Hotel Restaurant definitely will."

What was the complaint? The complainant was really not happy, writing a 250+ word mini-essay:

"I am complaining about the Valentines Day promotion that Christchurch Restaurant 'The Garden Hotel' is using. They also used the same advertisement leading up to the same holiday in 2017. It is about how a man should have taken his wife to the restaurant as he prepared a less than adequate dish for the big night. When the wife lifted the lid she screamed out Argh, beans on toast and instant pudding! Does our love mean nothing to you? She then threw the beans fresh off the stove at him and he screamed in a pain. Now apparently this is meant to be funny. Forget about the poor guy trying to do something nice. Forget that it's the thought that counts. He wronged her.

Now let's swap the couples behaviours around. Let's say the male is the more dominating one and what he says goes in most situations. What would society think of him? Imagine the outrage if an advertisement had a male throwing a hot substance at a female and yelling at her.

Rarely do we imagine men as victims. To do so is almost comical - literally. The image of the angry housewife - usually fat and unattractive waiting at home for her delinquent husband with curlers in her hair and holding a rolling pin, ready to dispense retributory violence for some slight, has been around for generations.

…This advertisement is deeply upsetting to me and a lot of other males. Statistics worldwide show that 50 percent of domestic violence victims are actually male!!

It is not right that this is deemed suitable and by having it played on air is showing that it is ok for woman to abuse men."

What was the decision? The Chair said that while the tone of the advertisement was "less than ideal and did not present the woman in a good light", it was not possible to say whether any actual violence took place or whether the plates were smashed on the floor and the man groaned in disappointment. The Chair said that with this limited context, the woman's actions did not meet the threshold to condone violent behaviour towards men. The Chair ruled there were no grounds for the complaint to proceed.

ASA rubbishes public's TV ad complaints in brutal best-of list
Photo credit: File

"The homosexual agenda" (February 2018)


What was the ad? A Spark campaign to celebrate Pride 2018 showed two fathers interacting with their son while the voiceover said "Thanks to you, he'll be supported and grow the confidence to be himself. Thanks to you, he'll have someone to look up to and stand by him through any tough times ahead. Thanks to you he can love the person he chooses. Thanks to members of the rainbow community standing for respect and equality, all Kiwi families will grow in a country that continues to progress."

What was the complaint? Complainant, J Rolston, said:

"This is blatant social engineering. The message is 'he can grow up to be who he wants to be.' What if this voiceless baby wanted to grow up with a mother AND a father? Shouldn't the message be 'so he can grow up to be what THEY want him to be?' Is it okay to show an innocent child being manipulated in this way to further advance the homosexual agenda?"

What was the decision? The Chair said that "in light of generally prevailing community standards, the advertisement was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence". The Chair ruled there were no grounds for the complaint to proceed.

Merry Fridgemas! (January 2018)


What was the ad? In a series of TV spots to promote its Christmas specials, PAK'nSAVE's iconic stickman gets into the holiday spirit. In one instalment, stickman urges its customers to say "Merry Fridgemas with the gift of meat… make this Fridgemas bigger than ever at PAK'nSAVE."

What was the complaint? The complainant said, in all caps locks, that:


What was the decision? In one of the Chair's comments, it said that "using the name Jesus Christ in a blasphemous manner did not rank highly in the Broadcasting Standards Authority 2013 survey titled What Not to Swear. The Acceptability of Words in Broadcasting 2013". The Chair ruled there were no grounds for the complaint to proceed.