Advertisements are always evolving and pushing the boundaries to try and get their message across, whether that’s on TV, in print, or across the many digital platforms that are at our fingertips these days.
But sometimes, things go a little too far, whether that’s an advert that’s in poor taste, culturally insensitive, or just misleading and factually incorrect.
And if anybody wants to complain about an ad, they head to the ASA (Advertising Standards Agency). But which brands have fallen foul of the ASA the most often?
To find out, we’ve analysed the last five years of ASA rulings (note that not all of these rulings were necessarily upheld by the authority).
Most Complained About Brands
- Roofoods Ltd (Deliveroo)
Complaints – 323
Rulings – 3
The brand which drew the most complaints across the last five years was Roofoods (better known as Deliveroo), with 323 complaints across three different rulings. The most notable ad which people weren’t happy about was their ‘magic bag’ TV advert. The ad saw a woman collecting a Mary Poppins-style bag containing meals from numerous different restaurants, which, as anyone who has ordered from Deliveroo before will know, isn’t actually possible on the app.
- Amazon Europe Core Sarl
Complaints – 299
Rulings – 8
In second place was Amazon Europe, with the majority of the 299 complaints relating to the one-day delivery service offered as part of Amazon Prime. Customers complained that their packages didn’t arrive within a day, with a significant number of Prime items not being available for the next-day delivery.
- Omega Pharma Ltd
Complaints – 222
Rulings – 4
The brand in third place might not be as recognisable as Deliveroo or Amazon, but they still clocked up a hefty number of complaints over the last five years. Omega Pharma saw 222 complaints, which related to promoting an unhealthy body image, particularly amongst young girls, as well as using actors under the age of 18 to do so.
How Many ASA Complaints Are Upheld?
We analysed a total of 1,935 complaints made to the ASA over the last five years or so – of which, the vast majority were upheld to some degree.
1,379 rulings were fully upheld, as well as a further 136 which were partially upheld, meaning over three-quarters of the complaints were dealt with in some way, while it was deemed that no further action was necessary in the case of 420 rulings.
The Most Commonly Complained About Topics
The topic which drew the most complaints from the public was food, drink and supplements, with 757 complaints across 92 rulings. This included the misleading Deliveroo advert mentioned earlier, as well as an advert for Philadelphia which suggested that men were incapable of caring for children and a KFC poster which landed them in hot water for using the word ‘cluck’ in place of an expletive.
Other topics which were commonly complained about include ads relating to health conditions (676) and holidays, travel and motoring (554).
The Most Commonly Complained About Media
While we increasingly consume media through the internet, it seems that the adverts which rile people the most are still on TV, with just over 40% of rulings applying to TV ads.
Some of the most complained about TV ads included Deliveroo’s ‘magic bag’ ad (300 complaints), a Photobox advert which the RSPCA complained was harmful to a dog featured in the ad (a ruling which wasn’t upheld), and a Department for Education ad which it was claimed misrepresented how much you could earn by training as a teacher.
Following TV, the most complained about ads featured on brands websites (1,698 complaints) and social media (576 complaints).
All data was sourced from the ASA, analysing each ruling from December 9th 2015 to December 12th 2020.
Note that not all rulings listed were necessarily upheld and that when analysing the most complained about topics and forms of media, the topic and/or media weren’t always noted in the ruling.