ASA releases the most complained about ads of 2022

May 29th '23

The New Zealand Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has released their 2022 annual report, which included the most complained about commercial and non-commercial ads of 2022.


Advertisements promoting a brand, product or service are classified as commercial, while advocacy advertisements from consumer groups, government or political parties, and those promoting public health or safety messages are classified as non-commercial.


In 2022, the ASA dealt with 843 complaints about 345 advertisements and advocacy advertisements were the most commonly complained about category, at 29% of cases. Advocacy advertisements are often among the most controversial as they are usually characterised by parties having differing views that are expressed in robust terms. The ASA has released a Guidance Note on Advocacy Advertising which outlines the process by which advocacy advertisements are assessed against the Advertising Codes.


More information on the breakdown of complaints in 2022 is available in our annual report.


The below outlines the most complained about non-commercial and commercial ads of 2022.


Most complained about non-commercial ads of 2022


1. Te Whatu Ora / Health New Zealand


29 complaints: Upheld

Complainants said the statement “Protect them for life. Immunise” in the context of advertising for the COVID-19 vaccine, was misleading. The Complaints Board agreed and said the advertisement implied if you vaccinate your child against COVID-19, this could protect them for life, meaning for the rest of their life, which was not true.


2. Voices for Freedom

Unaddressed mail

20 complaints: Upheld

The Complaints Board upheld complaints about a Voices for Freedom pamphlet which discouraged mask use. The Board ruled the ad was not socially responsible and was likely to mislead consumers in the context of a global pandemic.


3. Te Whatu Ora / Health New Zealand


18 Complaints: Not Upheld (on appeal)

Complainants were offended by the middle finger gesture used to promote the “Stick it to Hep C” campaign. The Complaints Board upheld the complaints. The Advertiser appealed the decision and provided research to show its target audience was not likely to be offended. The Appeal Board allowed the Appeal, and the complaints were Not Upheld.


Most complained about commercial ads of 2022


1. Tradie workwear


8 complaints: No Grounds to Proceed

Complainants said the ad was offensive, objectified women and not appropriate for children to view. The Chair ruled scenes of a woman dancing and a man using a leaf blower while dressed in their underwear, did not reach the threshold to cause serious or widespread offence.


2. Universal Pictures: The Black Phone

Television live and on demand

7 complaints: Upheld

Complainants said the placement of the ad promoting a horror movie was inappropriate. The Complaints Board disagreed with the M rating it was given and said the content and theme of the R16 rated film required a higher level of protection for viewers.


3. Meridian Energy


6 complaints: Not Upheld

Complainants raised issues around safety and bullying. The Complaints Board said the fantastical, hyperbolic nature of the advertisement provided sufficient context to prevent scenarios in the advertisement being viewed as unsafe or socially irresponsible by most consumers.


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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