ASA most complained about ads (ever)

May 29th '24

The New Zealand Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) been dealing with complaints about ads for a while – in 2023 they reached their 50th anniversary. To celebrate this milestone, their team has dusted off the record books to reveal the top five most complained about ads in ASA history.


From irate country line dancers to foul-mouthed dogs and condoms in the mail, this list highlights some of the colourful and often controversial history of advertising in New Zealand.


#5 – Toyota Television Advertisement, 1999

120 Complaints
Complaints Board Decision: Not Upheld

In 1999, the repeated use of the word “bugger” (including by a dog) in a humorous Toyota TV ad set on a farm led to complaints by over 120 consumers. In a precedent decision, the Board ruled the advertisement was unlikely to cause serious and widespread offence taking into account the humour and adult audience. It ruled the complaints Not Upheld.


#4 – Waves Billboard Advertisement, 2018

146 Complaints
Complaints Board Decision: Upheld

The billboard ad for Waves NZ depicted a man holding a baby, with the statement “If you knew the ingredients in a vaccine, would you RISK it?”. The complainants concerns included that the ad was not socially responsible, it implied vaccines are not safe, and exploited fear in vulnerable audiences. The Complaints Board Upheld the complaint, noting a lack of advertiser identification, and insufficient substantiation of the likely consumer takeout.


#3 – Hell Pizza Billboard Advertisement, 2011

178 Complaints
Complaints Board Decision: Not Upheld

The billboard advertising Hell Pizza’s limited edition Hot Cross Buns included the text “For a limited time. A bit like Jesus.” Complainants were concerned the ad constituted spiritual abuse, was grossly offensive and made a mockery of the Christian faith. In its decision, the Complaints Board said the ad, while provocative, was saved by the degree of black humour and in light of prevailing community standards was not likely to cause serious or widespread offence.


#2 – Open Polytech Radio Advertisement, 1997

550 Complaints
Complaints Board Decision: Resolved

A petition from 550 people complained about a radio advertisement for tertiary education which they said slighted country line dancers. The advertiser defended it for the targeted youth market and its humour but expressed regret at any offence caused and withdrew the advertisement. The Board considered self-regulation principles had been fulfilled and the matter was Resolved.


#1 – Hell Pizza Direct Mail Advertisement, 2006

685 Complaints
Complaints Board Decision: Upheld

This promotion for Hell’s Lust pizza went to over 170,000 homes surrounding Hell Pizza stores and consisted of a cardboard wallet containing a condom, instructions for use, the Hell Pizza logo and phrase, “Our pizza for meat lovers!”. Concerns ranged from offensiveness, poor taste and decency, undermining family values, and the risk of the condom being damaged in this form of packaging. The Complaints Board found the advertisement had not been placed with a due sense of social responsibility, noting the use of a condom to promote a food product through a method of unsolicited, unaddressed delivery would be likely to cause serious and widespread offence in several communities.


Source: ASA


About the New Zealand ASA

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is an organisation that investigates breaches of advertising standards in New Zealand. The ASA provides a free complaints process for consumers about the content and placement of advertisements. In assessing complaints, the ASA apply the ASA Advertising Codes.


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