Barnardo's ad leads ASA's top offenders in 2003

A harrowing ad by Barnardo's showing a baby with a cockroach crawling out of its mouth has won the dubious distinction of being the most complained-about national press campaign in the history of the Advertising Standards Authority.

It revealed the news in its annual report, which also named 2003 as a year when complaints against misleading or offensive ads hit a record high.

The ASA carpeted the children's charity, which has a long record of running provocative advertising by Bartle Bogle Hegarty, after 475 people complained.

The charity defended its use of the image.

However, the ASA threw out protests about the second most complained-about series of ads last year, Publicis' "Love your bum" posters for Velvet toilet tissue. The ASA fielded 375 complaints that the ads were offensive and demeaning.

The ASA received 14,277 complaints against 10,754 ads last year - a year-on-year rise of 2.3 per cent in complaints and 5 per cent in the number of ads complained about.

EasyJet's poster featuring a woman's chest and the copy "Discover weapons of mass distraction" provoked the third greatest number of complaints, 190, although they were also dismissed.

The J. Walter Thompson Yorkie poster that suggested women were bad drivers received 129 complaints for being offensive and sexist. Again, the ASA rejected the complaints.

The body did uphold 122 complaints against Channel 4's ads for Six Feet Under. The spoof cosmetics ads featured dead-looking models and were ruled offensive and shocking.