BHF and Pot Noodle top ASA's complaints table

A charity ad featuring a woman with a plastic bag over her head to draw attention to the plight of heart victims was Britain's most complained about print campaign last year.

The Advertising Standards Authority ordered a halt to the British Heart Foundation's national press and magazine campaign, created by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, after 315 people complained that it posed a risk to children who might suffocate if they tried to copy it.

But it was food and drink manufacturers who aroused the most controversy in 2002. The number of complaints made to the ASA about their ads soared by 175 per cent over the previous year.

The trend is reflected in the list of the most complained about ads of last year, published this week by the ASA in its annual report.

Of the top ten, almost half were from food producers.

Unilever Bestfoods, in particular, created a storm with its "slag" advertising for Pot Noodle through HHCL/Red Cell. A poster campaign that dubbed the product "The slag of all snacks" provoked 288 complaints, which made it last year's second-biggest sinner.

The ASA backed the complaints that the ad had undertones of sexual violence.

But it refused to back 126 complaints against another execution that carried the line: "Hurt me you slag."

The ASA received a record total of 13,959 complaints about 10,213 ads in 2002, an increase of 10.8 per cent on the previous year. However, 13 per cent of the complaints were directed at just 11 ads.

Misleading claims formed the basis of most complaints to the ASA, although objections to what was deemed offensive in advertising rose by almost a quarter.

The year also saw a large increase in complaints made about retail advertising. Numbers of complaints rose by 142 per cent, although a large proportion of these were concerning a single McDonald's poster. A total of 154 people protested that the number of possible meal combinations presented in the headline was calculated incorrectly.