24 June 2021
Over a quarter of complaints to the ASA last year were about advocacy advertisements (including political advertising) and this is reflected in our most complained about ads in 2020 below. Other controversial themes included discrimination and stereotyping, shock tactics, and use of offensive language. Below, we outline the ads that generated the most complaints in 2020, and the Advertising Standards Complaints Board decisions on the issues raised.
10. ASB Bank Limited
8 Complaints: Settled (advertisement removed)
The television advertisement showed a mixed-race couple arriving to view a house. The couple swiftly depart the property when a neighbour begins playing the bagpipes loudly while wearing a Scottish kilt. The Complainants said the advertisement was culturally insensitive to Scottish people and promoted racism against mixed-race couples. On receipt of the complaints, the Advertiser removed the advertisement and agreed not to use it again in its current form. The Chair ruled the complaints were settled.
9. New Zealand Government (Keep It Real Online)
8 Complaints: Not Upheld
The television advertisement promoted the ‘Keep It Real Online’ campaign, suggesting ways parents can engage with their children about online pornography. Complainants said the advertisement played at inappropriate times when children were likely to be watching, used the words “porn” and “sex” and would force parents to have conversations with their children in response to the issues raised. The Complaints Board said the advertisement was justifiable on educational grounds to address the fact that many young people are using online pornography to learn about sex.
8. Ministry of Health
9 Complaints: No Grounds to Proceed
The television advertisement from the New Zealand Government featured well-known New Zealanders, including “How to Dad” social media influencer Jordan Watson, making statements to contribute to a message regarding the importance of uniting against COVID-19. Complainants were concerned the line “Covid-19, ya dick” was offensive and unnecessary in an important public service announcement. The Chair said the term did not reach the threshold to cause serious or widespread offence, also noting the advertisement classification had been changed to “GXC” so it did not play in children’s television programmes.
7. Spend my Super
12 Complaints: Not Upheld
The television advertisement depicted babies moving along a conveyer belt in a factory. Every fourth baby was pushed off the main line by a mechanical arm and disappeared. Complainants were concerned the ad targeted a vulnerable audience, was disturbing and used shock tactics which were offensive and exploitative. The Complaints Board did not uphold the complaints, stating the use of the factory production line was a metaphor used to illustrate child poverty statistics that, while confronting, did not meet the threshold to breach the Advertising Standards Code.
6. New Conservative Party
14 complaints: Upheld in Part (advertisement not to be distributed)
The Complaints Board upheld in part a complaint about an unaddressed mail advertisement distributed by the New Conservative Party promoting their political views on a range of current topics in New Zealand. The flyer included the statement “Drugged drivers already cause more deaths than drunk drivers”. The Complaints Board ruled this was presented as a factual statement, not an opinion, and it had not been adequately substantiated.
5. Smart Approaches To Marijuana NZ Coalition (SAM) Say Nope To Dope
31 Complaints: No Grounds to Proceed
Complaints about the “Say Nope to Dope” newspaper advertisement were ruled no grounds to proceed. The advertisement showed an image of a “Dope Shop” with children passing by on the footpath in front and statistics included about a predicted increase in drug use. Complainants said the advertisement was misleading and offensive. The Chair said the scenario depicted in the advertisement was the Advertiser’s subjective interpretation of a possible future and came under the category of opinion. The threshold for a possible breach of the Code had not been reached.
4. New Zealand National Party
33 Complaints: Not Upheld
Complaints about Facebook advertisements from the NZ National Party about the Green Party’s water-only policy statement were not upheld. The advertisements were the National Party’s interpretation of an unqualified policy statement by the Green Party and the source of the statement was included in the advertisement.
3. New Zealand Government (Keep It Real Online)
44 Complaints: Not Upheld
The complaints about the Keep it Real Online advertisement about children accessing inappropriate online content were not upheld. The advertisement showed a man with a gun shooting the cake at a fantasy rabbit’s birthday party. The Complaints Board said the content and placement of the advertisement from the New Zealand Government was justifiable on educational grounds, to address the concern that many children are currently able to access inappropriate content online.
2. Azerbaijan Diaspora
58 Complaints: Settled (advertisement removed)
The billboard advertisement made a statement about stopping “the Armenian occupation and aggression”. Complainants said the advertisement was misleading and offensive. Upon receipt of the complaints, the Media removed the advertisement and agreed to not use it again in its current form. The Chair ruled the complaints were settled.
1. New Zealand Drug Foundation
60 Complaints: Upheld in Part (advertisement changed)
Two television advertisements for the New Zealand Drug Foundation promoted a Yes vote in the upcoming Cannabis Control Referendum. The complaints were upheld because the identity of the Advertiser was not sufficiently clear. The information identifying the Advertiser appeared very briefly at the end of the advertisements.