Barnardos and VW Polo ads receive most complaints in 2008

A harrowing Barnardo's commercial featuring a girl repeatedly beaten around the head by her father attracted more complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority than any other ad last year.

A total of 840 protests were received by the ASA about the spot. They were among 26,433 complaints – the most ever made in a single year to the watchdog since its formation in 1962.

But the ASA refused to order the ad, created by Bartle Bogle Hegarty, off air despite claims that it was unnecessarily violent.

Nor did it take action on the 743 complaints against the second most complained about ad – a Volkswagen Polo commercial from DDB London featuring a dog singing confidently while sitting in a car but shaking and looking cowed once outside.

However, the ASA did order that 2,475 ads should be either amended or withdrawn after complaints against them.

None of these was in the list of the most complained about ads. The ASA either declined not to back these complaints or chose not to press ahead with an investigation.

The only exception was a Walker’s crisps commercial (the eighth most complained about ad) featuring Gary Lineker and created by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO.

The ASA decided not to act on the 130 complaints after Walkers removed a scene in which a bus’s top deck is ripped off as it drives under a low bridge.

Lord Chris Smith, the ASA chairman, cited mounting public interest in sensitive areas such as alcohol, gambling and snack food promotion to children as a key reason for the record number of complaints.

And he suggested the ASA might become busier still as the use of price comparisons in ads grew and companies’ environmental claims were increasingly challenged.

Barnardo’s and VW led last year's Top 10 list by a significant margin. Third in line was an Orangina spot by FFL Paris. It attracted 286 complaints claiming that its depiction of dancing cartoon animals was overtly sexual and explicit.

Fourth place was occupied by AMV’s commercial for Heinz Deli Mayo which provoked 215 complaints because it featured a gay kiss. Heinz withdrew the ad after the complaints, only for 17 MPs to sign a Commons motion calling for them to re-instate it.

The fifth spot went to a Department of Health campaign through Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy which showed children copying their parents by pretending to smoke. The 205 people who complained suggested the spot could actually encourage children to take up the habit.

Others in he top 10 included Tiscali, whose commercial drew 159 complaints that it trivialized adultery and was not suitable to be seen by children.

A total of 157 people also came to the defence of children over what they claimed was an inappropriate bus side ad for the film 'Zak and Miri Make a Porno'.

Specsavers secured ninth spot with 123 complaints about its TV spot featuring Edith Piaf singing 'Je ne Regrette Rien'. Complainants claimed that it was demeaning to the memory of a tragic figure.

The car retailer Cargiant made it into 10th place with 96 complaints about two posters showing a man so happy about saving money on a used car that he intended taking his mistress to Paris.

Top 10 most complained about ads of 2008

  1. Barnado's 'break the cycle' by BBH
  2. VW 'Polo Confidence' by DDB London
  3. Orangina 'animal lust' by FFL Paris
  4. Heinz 'deli mum' by AMV BBDO
  5. Dept of Health 'don't keep it in the family' by MCBD
  6. Tiscali 'Bob next door' by Mortimer Whitaker O'Sullivan
  7. 'Zak & Miri make a porno' by Entertainment Film Distributors Ltd
  8. Walkers 'summer holiday' by AMV BBDO
  9. Specsavers 'no regrets' by Specsavers Creative
  10. 'giant smiles' by Cargiant