A Kentucky Fried Chicken advert featuring call centre workers singing with their mouths full is the most complained-about UK campaign of all time, the official watchdog has revealed.
The 2005 television ad drew a record 1,671 complaints, with the majority objecting that it could encourage bad manners among children, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said.
The complaints were all rejected, with the ASA ruling that although it was “not to everyone’s taste”, it was unlikely to change children’s behaviour or undermine parental authority.
The Auction World television shopping channel attracted 1,360 complaints in 2004 – the second-highest number ever – from viewers who objected to poor customer service, misleading guide prices and delivery delays.
The ASA passed the complaints to Ofcom which issued a fine and revoked the channel’s broadcasting licence.
The third most unpopular ad was for bookmaker Paddy Power in 2010 which drew 1,313 complaints for showing a cat being kicked across a pitch by a blind football player.
Viewers objected that the ad was offensive to blind people and could encourage animal cruelty but the ASA rejected the complaints on the grounds that it was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence or condone cruelty.
The regulator has revealed the 10 most unpopular ads of all time to celebrate its 50-year anniversary, saying it had dealt with around 431,000 complaints in that time.
An ad for the Christian party in 2009 carrying the strap line “There definitely is a God. So join the Christian Party and enjoy your life” drew 1,204 complaints that it was offensive to atheists and could not be substantiated.
The complaints were not upheld because political party ads are beyond the ASA’s remit, although it would not have been banned because it was a statement of opinion rather than fact, the watchdog said.
The British Safety Council produced the fifth most complained-about ad in 1995 featuring the Pope wearing a hard hat with the strap line “The Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt always wear a condom.”
The ASA agreed with 1,192 complainants that it was offensive to Catholics even though it was intended to raise awareness for National Condom Week and promote safer sex.
An ad for Marie Stopes International in 2010 drew 1,088 complaints that it promoted abortion, while a 2008 Volkswagen ad showing an engineer fighting multiple versions of himself that attracted 1,070 complaints led to a post-9pm restriction.
In 2000 the ASA agreed that an Yves St Laurent Beaute campaign featuring a naked Sophie Dahl was sexually suggestive and likely to cause serious or widespread offence as it had a non-specific target audience, following 948 complaints.
A 2010 campaign for the Department of Energy and Climate Change drew 939 complaints that it was misleading and scaremongering about the effects of climate change.
The ASA did not agree with the majority of objections but upheld complaints about claims in some of the press ads for exaggerating the likelihood and impact of extreme weather.
The tenth most unpopular ad was for Barnardo’s in 2008 which drew 840 complaints from viewers who found repeated scenes of violence and drug taking upsetting and unsuitable for children. While the ASA said it did not doubt the distress described by complainants, it ruled that the television ads were scheduled appropriately and their aim justified the use of strong imagery.
ASA chairman, Lord Smith of Finsbury, said: “Our top 10 most complained-about ads of all time certainly reveal what gets the public talking, but even more important is the less glamorous day-to-day action we take to protect consumers from misleading advertising.
“Our commitment for the next 50 years will be the same as for the last: to keep UK ads legal, decent, honest and truthful. We’re up for the task.”
Communications Minister Ed Vaizey said: “I congratulate the Advertising Standards Authority as it celebrates its 50th year as the UK’s advertising watchdog.
“The advertising industry in the UK is world-renowned for its creativity and innovation, but also for abiding by the rules that are designed to protect consumers. As an effective and well respected regulator, the ASA plays a crucial role in enabling responsible advertising to flourish.”