Ad complaint levels soared at the beginning of the year with the release of the Department of Health's anti-smoking "fish-hook" campaign, and Cadbury's Trident chewing gum "Mastication for the nation" campaign. The former received almost 800 complaints and the latter more than 500.
According to the Advertising Standards Authority, adverts that feature same-sex kissing, offend religious beliefs or feature violent imagery are most likely to upset people in Britain. Top of the ASA's list of the top ten most complained about ads of last year is a Gay Police Association national press ad, which featured a Bible next to a pool of blood, to support its claims that religious motivation was behind most incidents of homophobia. Also in the top ten is French Connection, whose TV ad ended with two women kissing each other, and a Dolce & Gabbana ad, which showed a brief kiss between two men.
The ASA recently received 75 complaints from members of the public about the British Heart Foundation poster campaign, which encourages the over-50s to take up gentle activity. One poster, which features a naked old age pensioner embracing his wife with the words "sex" and "swimming" in bold, attracted 66 complaints. A second ad, showing a man using a small dog to wash his car, was described as offensive and cruel and received complaints from nine members of the public. The ASA has decided against launching an investigation into either case.
Some viewers failed to see the funny side of Walkers' Comic Relief ad, in which Gary Lineker was bullied for the size of his ears. The ad showed various celebrities including Harry Hill, Ferne Cotton and Billie Piper sitting in class wearing novelty ears sold for Comic Relief and replying "ear" to a register taken by Stephen Fry. The only person not wearing novelty ears was Gary Lineker. When he replies "here" to his name the teacher tells him off for wearing promotional ears and throws him out of the classroom. Viewers complained that the ad was likely to condone bullying and was offensive to people with big ears. These complaints were not upheld.
Television ads are the most complained about, but online advertising complaints have rocketed in the last year. The ASA reported that complaints about online advertising rose by 33% in 2006 to 2,066 complaints, overtaking direct mail as the third-most criticised medium, behind television and the national press. ASA chairman Lord Borrie QC said: "The boundaries of regulatory responsibility online are still unclear. The industry needs to address this issue quickly so that consumer's faith in online messages can be as high as it is for advertising that appears in traditional formats."