From eggplant emojis and twerking llamas to sweaty anthropomorphic butts, we present some of the most fascinating, hilarious and outrageous complaints dismissed by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) from 2019 to now.
Avocadon’t (January 2019)
The ad: In this ad from Specsavers, a man gets ready to join a cricket match, but when he reaches for his groin protector he accidentally grabs half an avocado instead. He proceeds to then shove the ripe, uneaten avocado in his pants and awkwardly shimmy it in place. “Should’ve gone to Specsavers,” the voiceover tuts (more like should’ve gone to the doctor – has the man lost all feeling in his balls? I guess we’ll never know).
The complaint: This ad received not just one, not just two, but three complaints in total. One objected to a groin protector being on a table full of food (which is actually kinda gross), while another felt it disrespected the mighty avocado when “so many people don’t have the luxury of eating it”.
A third complainant didn’t appreciate the ad’s “objectional sexual overtones of a cricketer grinding in delight”, adding that while it was “obviously” funny to men, it was “totally sick and objectionable to women”.
The decision: The chair noted that Specsavers was using light-hearted humour and that it was unlikely to cause “serious or widespread offence”. On whether the cricketer was grinding in delight to his avocado, the chair was of the opinion that he was “attempting to manoeuvre the avocado half … into the correct position, with understandable difficulty”. No grounds to proceed.
Bad Nick (January 2019)
The ad: In an attempt to raise awareness on the importance of consent, this online ad from Netsafe shows a text exchange between three friends called TK, Jimmy and Nick. Nick, however, takes things way too far when he shares a photo of a nude woman in their group chat. His friends quickly tell him off, saying it’s “NOT cool to share her nudes”. The ad ends with the hashtag #DontBeANick.
The complaint: The complainant (who we can safely assume is called Nick) took issue with Netsafe for supposedly equating “being a Nick” with nonconsensual sharing of nudes. “This is tarring the reputation of all people named Nick solely on the basis of their name.” Poor Nick.
The decision: The chair ruled the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence “in light of generally prevailing community standards”. No grounds to proceed. Sorry Nick.
Deliciously dirty (March 2019)
The ad: The exact clip in question seems to have gone AWOL (the above is a version featuring Angella Dravid), but apparently, the ad was to promote Wendy’s limited edition Dirty American range that featured burgers with “a deliciously creamy, tangy dirty sauce”. The ad ended with the phrase: “the Dirty American Range – it’s deliciously dirty”.
The complaint: “I find this very offensive,” the complainant wrote. “I’m offended by the adjective dirty being used to describe food from my culture.”
What was the decision? No grounds to proceed, because the “dirty” refers to the burger’s dirty sauce – a real sauce made of mayo and mustard originally from the US.
‘A high five would be more appropriate’ (April 2019)
The ad: This ad for Meadow Fresh shows a young girl going to the local dairy to get milk. The parents seem worried about letting her go alone, but the girl manages to successfully purchase a carton after which the dairy owner texts the parents to let her know she’s OK. When she returns, she’s welcomed home by both her parents with her father giving her a big hug.
The complaint: For a seemingly harmless commercial about getting milk, this ad received a total of four complaints. One complainant felt it was wrong to depict a young girl going on an errand by herself “unawear [sp] of what could be lurking around the corner”, while another took issue with the girl using her parents’ Eftpos card in a shameless breach of the bank’s terms and conditions.
A third was offended by both the Eftpos card and the lack of supervision, writing:
“We try protect our children the child is no more than 7 why would you let any child walk by themselves anywhere especially a girl… we all no that this can change in a blink of an eye.. the other problem I have is she has her mums eftpos card isn’t this illegal… the mother would have her accounts closed for doing this and but yet meadow fresh are promoting this is ok!!!”
A fourth complainant simply had a weird issue around the hug:
“At the very end when the dad grabs the daughter and hugs her close and tries to put her on his knee, It seems to be a inappropriate type of hug a high five would be more appropriate maybe”
The decision: The chair ruled that the ad depicted “a carefully controlled scenario” and was unlikely to “encourage or condone a dangerous practice or a disregard for safety”. On the Eftpos card issue, it was noted that while the practice wasn’t ideal, the ad showed the parents giving the child the card to buy milk and had therefore “chosen to take the risk regarding the card’s usage”. Therefore, no grounds to proceed (including the one about hug).
??? (May 2019)
The ad: To celebrate 10 years in the telco business, 2degrees released this ad using emojis to explain how the company had been “fighting for fair”, kicking off with the phrase: “10 years ago, New Zealand’s telcos were acting like eggplant emojis…”
The complaint: It appears the complainant had a very rude awakening, writing in to say:
“I think its crude that 2 degrees is using the eggplant emoji – I did not know this until my daughter asked me what that means by egg plant emoji upon looking it up the egg plant emoji also refers to a mans penis”
The decision: “Consumers who were familiar with the eggplant emoji were unlikely to take serious offence to its use in this context, while those who did not know the meaning would not understand the reference,” the chair ruled. No grounds to proceed.
Booty bot (July 2019)
The ad: In this Zuru ad, Boppi the Booty Shakin’ Llama proceeds to tear up the dancefloor as it “shakes its head and bops its hind quarters”. Fun times.
The complaint: The complainant felt Boppi’s booty-bangin’ ways had no place on kids’ primetime TV, writing in to say:
“Boppi the Booty Shakin’ Llama is incredibly worthy of complaint as it breaches rule 1 (f) of the Children and Young Peoples Advertising Code as ownership encourages a sexualised behaviour (twerking) which is incredibly inappropriate for children.
It also depicts families, including young people, ’shaking their booties’ and, even though this is done in a somewhat playful manner, it breaches rule 1 (d) by portraying people under the age of 18 in a way that is inappropriate for their age. This product is clearly inappropriate for children and advertisement of it is an obvious breach of advertising standards.”
The decision: The chair ruled that the likely consumer takeout was one of “innocent fun” and that only the ad’s mother character really “wiggled her bottom”. Even then it was more of a “side-to-side motion” rather than a “thrusting action” typical of twerking. No grounds to proceed. Wiggle on, folks.
Glo-ball warming (September 2019)
The ad: To highlight its temperature cooling technology, underwear brand Bonds released an ad showing various men’s testicles being monitored with a thermal camera. “Fight glo-ball warming in a pair of Bonds X Temp with ball-cooling technology,” it says. “Science, join the fight today!”
The complaint: The complaint was that the ad shamelessly exploited the very serious issue of climate change to sell underwear targeted at very sweaty balls.
“This is false advertising, and I am deeply offended by the way that it trivialised such a serious issue facing the planet and its inhabitants to sell Underpants. Wearing Bonds will not help climate change in fact the carbon footprint of bonds underpants is undoubtedly quite high due to the shipping and manufacture.”
What was the decision? It was noted that the ad used a play on words to highlight the product’s features and that at no point did it make any claims about “global” but rather “glo-ball” warming. No grounds to proceed. Bollocks.
Chafing, as told by an 11-year-old (December 2019)
The ad: In this legendary ad for Neat 3B Body Powder and Action Cream – whose jingle was ranked fourth-best New Zealand jingle of all time – an animated set of anthropomorphic body parts sweat and chafe to an unusual rhythm. “Don’t suffer any longer!” the ad exclaims – 3B is here for your sore, sad butt.
The complaint: This wonderfully kitsch commercial is a classic, but this Zoomer isn’t a fan:
“HI IM 11 YEARS Old
i am complaining about this advert for 3b cream.It shows moving breasts and moving groin and it is a bit offensive to women .And inappropriate for young minds like mine.I am not saying you should ban the advert because that would be unfair for the advertisers but you could put the advert on later when younger children are in bed.”
The decision: Ignoring the fact that this “11 year old” is worried about their “young mind”, the chair said it didn’t consider the ad to be exploitative, “nor could the animated type illustrations be seen to be using sexual appeal”. No grounds to proceed.
Sunshine – not for everyone (December 2019)
The complaint: The complainant took issue with the phrase “sunshine is good for everything”, pointing out that “it is not good for skin cancer, therefore the ad is misleading and determental [stet] to societal wellbeing. It should be removed immediately as it encourages unprotected sun exposure.”
The decision: Considering the ad’s overall context, the chair ruled that the phrase was “a generalised, hyperbolic statement that was not intended to be interpreted literally.” No grounds to proceed.
‘We speak NZ English here’ (February 2020)
The ad: In an ad promoting the Shen Yun Performing Arts show, a voiceover tells viewers to visit “ShenYun.com/NZ” for more info. But instead of pronouncing “NZ” as “En Zed”, it uses the American pronunciation “En Zee”. You can’t hear it in the video above because it’s the generic global version, but you get the idea.
The complaint: “We speak NZ English not American here, so it should be said ‘N Zed’,” the complainant protested. “This influences kids to mispronounce their language as has happened since Sesame Street was launched. This makes it extremely hard, nay on impossible for parents and schools to correct.”
The decision: Despite the shocking assault on our language, the complaint had no grounds to proceed.
Calling bull (February 2020)
The ad: To promote its plant-based Rebel Whopper burger, this Burger King ad travelled to the small town of Bulls to test just how well its residents knew their beef. The video shows a number of people trying the burger in front of a Burger King who are surprised when they hear the burger has no meat.
The complaint: This ad is accused of being misleading, but not for the reasons you think:
“Burger King are asking the people of Bulls what they think of their new vegan burger, this ad gives the impression that Bulls has a BurgerKing, by interviewing persons from Bulls outside a BurgerKing premises! This is impossible as they dont have one!!!”
The decision: Honestly, the complainant kind of makes a good point. But the chair found it had no grounds to proceed because although some viewers might get the impression that the video of the tasting was filmed in Bulls, the voiceover doesn’t actually explicitly state this. Instead, it refers to “the people of Bulls” and shows people standing in front of a non-specific Burger King.
“They wanted people from the Bulls beef farming community to be among the first to try the new burger. They visited the town and locals who were interested in trying the new burger were invited to the Upper Hutt Burger King restaurant for filming,” the chair wrote after talking with a Burger King spokesperson. “She said there are no plans at present to open a Burger King in Bulls.”
#FreeNugget (March 2020)
The ad: “When I first met Nugget he was stuck in a hole,” says a woman dressed up as a Metamucil bottle along with two men dressed up as a colon and a poo. “But I’ve been pushing him hard. Now Nugget is healthy and regular!” No doubt a career highlight for all actors involved.
The complaint: “I find this advert showing people dressed up as a colon and faeces to be both degrading and socially irresponsible,” the complainant wrote. “Have we come so far as a race that personal problems (constipation) are now to be just a snigger!”
The decision: The chair ruled that while some viewers may find the subject to be unpleasant and distasteful, the “lighthearted nature of the advertisement helped to offset offence”. No grounds to proceed.
TMI (April 2020)
The ad: In this Libra ad, various clips relating to periods are shown, including red liquid being poured onto a sanitary pad, a pixelated pad being removed from underwear, and blood running down a woman’s leg in the shower. The ad asks: “Why is it considered unacceptable to show period blood? Periods are normal. Showing them should be too.”
The complaint: While period ads frequently incite a burning fury among ASA complainants, this particular complainant took it to a whole new level – a 1,200-word rant kind of level. Here’s a short excerpt:
“Sure, periods and blood are normal, socially, but that’s not something I want to see on TV/videos. Me jizzing in my girlfriend is normal, but no one wants to see that either, nor should they have to just because I have some weird need to ‘normalize’ it. To be honest I find this quite disgusting. Shit coming out my ass is normal too; no one needs to see that on TV. Whether it is blood or not running down her leg is irrelevant. It’s implied enough, the same way if I have something that looks like poo but isn’t running down my leg–it’s obscene.”
What was the decision? No grounds to proceed. Also please, don’t shit in the shower.