Ad Standards' most complained about ads in 2021

Advertising adjudicator list highlights a mix of telco, FMCG, QSR and retail brands as topping the most complained about advertisements this year

Crazy Domains’ urinator, Aussie Broadband’s swearing gardeners, Grill’d’s flashing clown and teachers talking about adult toys have topped the list of most complained about advertisements this year.  

Ad Standards has released its list of the 10 most complained about ads of 2021. Topping the tally was Crazy Domain’s ad showing a man urinating on a building. According to the advertising industry moderator, 285 complaints were received by members of the community, with many describing the hosting domain’s creative as offensive, unhygienic and illegal. The ad was discontinued after the Ad Standards Community Panel determined it breached the AANA Code of Ethics earlier this year.  

In second place was Aussie Broadband’s free-to-air commercial, which showed people in their gardens with a hose using terms such as ‘freaking’ and ‘bloody’. Despite receiving 114 complaints, the panel dismissed concerns against the advertisement.  

By contrast, Grill’d’s TV ad featuring an animated close in an alleyway that opens his trenchcoat in front of two children to reveal toys was deemed inappropriate because of its use of violence as well as sex/sexuality/nudity. Ad Standards received 88 complaints about the ad.  

Also upheld were complaints on the grounds of health and safety against Wisr’s TV ad showing a man standing behind a toaster with a fork in his hand. In the ad, the voiceover suggests the individual employs the ‘smart part’ of his brain by not using the fork to pull out a crumpet from the electrical appliance.  

In fifth spot was It’s Normal’s TV and on-demand ad featuring a PE teacher and grandmother speaking about adult toys. The ad received 69 complaints, but Ad Standards dismissed the case.  

Rounding out the top ten most complained about ads were Honey Birdette’s TV and out-of-home advertising (upheld on grounds of sex/sexuality/nudity); SA Police’s TV commercial featuring the term ‘selfish prick’ (dismissed); Meat and Livestock Australia’s TV ad featuring two adults vying for a last piece of beef (dismissed); Asaleo Care’s Libra TV ad and jingle, ‘wear, bleed, wash, repeat’ (dismissed) and IAG’s TV advertisements raising awareness of destruction of the native habitat of koalas (dismissed).  

In total, Ad Standards received more than 4500 complaints in 2021, with more than 300 ads assessed by the Community Panel against the advertising industry codes. The group found just over 80 ads in breach of one or more advertising rules.  

“Like previous years, the bulk of complaints were about ads seen on free-to-air TV followed by ads seen on TV on-demand and Instagram – reflecting the media and advertising consumption habits of Australians,” said executive director, Richard Bean. “The top concern in 2021 was about sex, sexuality and nudity followed closely by health and safety then discrimination and vilification.”  

In a sign of the industry’s own self-regulatory approach, Bean also noted 40 ads that triggered complaints were voluntarily withdrawn or changed by advertisers before being assessed by the Community Panel.

Read more: Advertisers reminded to take care as ABAC reports latest quarterly breaches

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