Tesco's Christmas ad featuring Father Christmas showing his Covid vaccination passport at border control has attracted more than 5,000 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority, making it the second-most-complained-about ad of all time.
In stark contrast to other ads that attract such a high volume of ASA complaints, Tesco's TV spot has garnered little media coverage, it does not appear to break any advertising rules and appears to have been targeted by a largely online group of anti-vaxxers. Meanwhile, the ASA has yet to make a decision to investigate the ad – although it is thought to be imminent.
While complaints are still coming in – largely arguing the ad is coercive, encourages medical discrimination based on vaccine status and has politicised Santa – the ASA said the rate had "broadly slowed down".
The number of people who have taken umbrage is near to breaking Paddy Power's record of 5,525 complaints. 2014's "It's Oscar time" was run during Oscar Pistorius's murder trial and both trivialised a violent death and made fun of the athlete's disability via the line "Money back if he walks". The ASA agreed with complainants at the time that it was not just offensive, but likely to bring advertising itself into disrepute.
Meanwhile, Tesco's ad managed to accrue more complaints in just three days of launch (more than 3,000) than last year's most-complained-about ad ultimately did – Ryanair's "Jab and go", which was banned for encouraging people to act irresponsibly once vaccinated and gained 2,371 complaints.
Tesco's Christmas offering – created by Bartle Bogle Hegarty London and themed around the UK's determination to enjoy the festivities after last year's were curtailed – has drawn a further 2,000 complaints since that initial 3,000, bringing the total to more than 5,000.
BBH declined to comment, while a Tesco spokesperson said: "We respect everyone's views and we know that Christmas is a hugely important time for many of our customers and, after last year's events, that is truer now than ever.
"We set out to create a campaign which took a light-hearted view on how the nation is feeling and it has been well-received by colleagues and customers. We are still in the midst of a pandemic and the advert reflects the current rules and regulations regarding international travel."
Other ads that have garnered notably high levels of complaints include Moneysupermarket's twerking businessman – over the course of four ads in 2015 and 2016 it collectively attracted more than 4,000 complaints, although the ad was not banned.