Image: The Spinoff/ASB
Image: The Spinoff/ASB

MediaJuly 14, 2021

The best ‘inappropriate’ and ‘annoying’ ad complaints rubbished by the ASA

Image: The Spinoff/ASB
Image: The Spinoff/ASB

Another year, another roundup of some of the most fascinating, hilarious and outrageous complaints dismissed by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) over the last 12 months, featuring provocative pouting, classical music, and a lot of very rude children.

Sex and Snax (June 2020)

The ad: In this ad from Griffin’s, a mother and father sit down with their teenage son for an all-important chat about the “birds and the bees”. When the conversation turns explicit, their voices are drowned out by some ASMR-level crunching as the son chows down on a box of Snax Crunches, perhaps in an attempt to disassociate themselves from the toe-curling awkwardness of discussing sex with their parents, or perhaps because he’s a teenage boy who’ll basically eat anything within a five-metre radius.

The complaint: “The parents have a delicate item to discuss with their child. Child completely ignores them by eating his snax,” the complainant wrote in a fuming rebuke of teenage disrespect. Their main takeaway from the ad seems to be that it’s “OK not to listen to your parents” and that “the boy needs to be shown manners”.

The decision: The chair found that the “light-hearted message about the awkwardness of parents discussing sex education with their child did not reach the threshold to cause serious or widespread offence”. No grounds to proceed.

It’s brusketta (June 2020)

The ad: Another one about crackers! Who knew snacks were so controversial? In this ad for Arnott’s Cracker Chips, the voiceover asks which flavour we’d prefer as a series of sexily-shot clips of Hickory ribs, mozzarella cheese and basil bruschetta appear onscreen. 

The complaint: You’ll have to listen to the video to get this one, because the complainant took issue with the voiceover, specifically the part where they say bruschetta, because “bruschetta is pronounced incorrectly as brushetta … ‘ch’ in Italian in this case is a hard K sound”. That’s it. That’s the complaint. 

The decision: First of all, the complainant is right: phonetically it’s brusketta, not brushetta. And while the chair agreed the word doesn’t use the original Italian pronunciation, “bruschetta” was an example of a word crossing from another language into everyday English where it’s pronounced differently. “The English pronunciation of this word, in the New Zealand context, did not reach the threshold to be regarded as offensive or socially irresponsible,” it wrote. Therefore, no grounds to proceed.

A classical Chorus (September 2020)

The ad: In this ad from Chorus encouraging New Zealanders to install fibre broadband, a man named Carl goes about his day reading the paper, playing with his dog, hanging up his laundry, and video calling his workmates from home. But because he has bad internet, everything is slow and glitchy, eventually leading to the neighbours staging a “technology intervention” for Carl who’s still on copper broadband. 

The complaint: Maybe the complaint was about how bad internet doesn’t actually stop you from doing your laundry, or how it’s rude to literally pixelate Carl’s face during a video call just because his broadband can’t keep up. Or maybe the complaint was about how using the concept of an “intervention” is offensive to alcoholics and drug abusers nationwide.

These are all the sort of weirdly pedantic complaints that get made to the ASA every month. But the real complaint for this ad is perhaps the most weirdly pedantic of them yet: the complainant didn’t like the use of Claude Debussy’s classical movement ‘Clair de Lune’ as the background music for the ad, considering it to be “extremely inappropriate”.

The decision: The full contents of the complaint haven’t been published so we don’t really know why someone had such beef with Debussy. But judging from the chair’s comments, it seems they didn’t think it was the appropriate “type of music” to promote faster internet. I don’t know, maybe they thought ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ by Queen or ‘Fast’ by Saweetie would’ve been a better choice. Obviously: no grounds to proceed.

Pout and pose (September 2020)

The ad: Thin Lizzy, the brand famously shilled by infomercial queen Suzanne Paul, doesn’t just do make-up anymore. Nowadays, Thin Lizzy also sells something called the Perfect Face Facial Hair Remover which “gently removes unwanted facial hair and peach fuzz effortlessly!” The corresponding ad shows a number of women using the product and posing dreamily in front of the camera while wrapped in billowing reams of pastel pink fabric. It’s a bit like a Miss Dior fragrance campaign, minus the Natalie Portman.

The complaint: Despite the overwhelmingly vanilla nature of this ad for said “peach fuzz” remover, one complainant saw things differently, protesting that the ad was too “sexual and provocative”. 

“This ad had women pouting lips, face, eyes provokative (sp), not appropriate,” they wrote. “Perfume ads OK, Dove have women in underwear and OK, Tradie underpants OK, yet this was boarder (sp) on pre- pornov (sp) suggestive. It’s an ad for foundation not offering or insinuating something other than skincare!”

The decision: Ignoring the fact that this was not an ad for foundation and that, bizarrely, the complainant seems to find no problem with such poses in the context of selling fragrances, soap and “tradie underpants”, the chair ruled the ad served the purpose of showing how smooth it made the models’ skin. It wrote that while “some of the model poses were provocative”, they certainly weren’t “salacious” enough to warrant a breach. No grounds to proceed.

Let’s get physical (September 2020)

The ad: Despite sounding like a range of smart hiking boots straight from Apple’s Silicon Valley offices, the iTread is a compact at-home treadmill whose infomercials you might’ve spotted on telly at some ungodly hour. The pitch for iTread is simple: walking is great for your health, and now you can do it at home! Screw wet weather and dirty gyms! Get this “fitness and wellness innovation” for just $15 (plus $50 postage and handling) instead!

The complaint: Towards the end of the ad, the iTread states that walking boasts a number of “research-proven” benefits such as helping you to lose weight, boost energy, ease joint pain, and reduce stress. 

However, the complainant had just one claim they wished to contest: “The advert said the product would improve my sex life. What evidence do they have to made (sp) this claim. Is that claim applicable to over 70 year olds.” (Presumably, this complaint was made as a critical line of inquiry rather than a personal question.)

The decision: The chair ruled that the claim was related to how exercise was “likely to result in an increase in confidence and general wellbeing and possibly ‘a better sex life’”. Thus, no grounds to proceed.

Taking the fall (September 2020)

The ad: In this ad from rural insurance provider FMG, a family is shown struggling to adapt to their new farming lifestyle as a herd of roosters and chickens run riot in their living room. When one of the children tries to shoo one of the roosters away, it flies onto a shelf and causes it to collapse, taking the shelf’s contents with it. Hence, the family should get insurance, because as Alfred Hitchcock once warned, you never know when the birds might go feral on you

The complaint: Rather than the birds, the complainant instead took issue with the child who “directs the chicken to the shelf … causing the objects to tumble against the chicken who looses (sp) it’s balance”. In conclusion, the complainant felt the action denoted “cruelty towards the chicken who has been set up to take a fall”. 

The decision: Ultimately, the ad failed to reach the threshold to show violent or anti-social behaviour. “The incident with the chicken was a mishap,” the chair wrote, “and although the contents of the shelf tipped over the chicken was not shown suffering any harm”. No grounds to proceed.

Hey Google (November 2020)

The ad: In this Christmas ad from Noel Leeming (which annoyingly began playing in November) a shop assistant is asked to wrap various presents including a hairdryer, a vacuum cleaner and a Google Home Mini. At one point, he asks the latter “Hey Google, what time is it?” to check the response against the three smartwatches he has on his wrist.

The complaint: One avid Google Assistant user was very riled by this ad, explaining that when the shop assistant asks “Hey Google”, it ended up triggering every Google smart device in his home. 

“I have 10 such devices in the house which includes smart speakers, smart displays and Chromecast which all respond to the advert,” they write. “This is not only highly annoying, but also a deliberate attempt to trigger these devices.”

The decision: Can you imagine the chaos that must have ensued in this person’s home? It’s hilarious to think of but also understandably annoying. Unfortunately, as many complainants have discovered in the past, being annoying isn’t a valid reason for the ASA to take action. No grounds to proceed.

Click here to read our previous roundups of the best (worst) ASA complaints of the year

A bug’s life (December 2020)

The ad: An animated bug family arrives at a fancy dinner party (aka germs on a kitchen sponge) hosted by Louie the fly. As they’re about to dig into their meal, a man sprays the gathering with Mortein Insect Killer causing them to instantly die.

The complaint: “This mortein ad is very upsetting, especially to my child,” the complainant wrote. “In the ad the insect spray kills a whole family of insects, including the baby insect! Because this is a cartoon children watch it and seeing a mother holding a baby (even if they are just insect characters) is very very upsetting!! I usually like these ads but this is just wrong.” 

The decision: No grounds to proceed as the ad was found unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence. Also, children should note that baby insects are the worst given they’re an indicator that there are probably eggs waiting to hatch around the home.

Kids these days (April 2021)

The ad: When a couple begins digging through their garage, they find an old pair of slippers and a Kashin money box from ASB. The discovery sparks memories of when the pair first met at school and the boy used Kashin to save money to buy slippers for the girl. Suddenly, the memory’s cut short when the couple is interrupted by a young boy on a bike who says: “Are you guys having a flashback? Awww, cute!”

The complaint: Like the one about the chicken and the shelf, the complainant’s main gripe with the ad has to do with the child’s behaviour, stating that the ad shows children that it’s OK to be rude and disrespectful to an adult they don’t even know.

The complainant continues their rant by stating that every time they see the ad, they “just want to scream because of the lack of respect” which, apparently, makes it hard for them to teach their kids how to behave towards adults. “It has to stop. This is the reason that kids these days believe that the world owes them something.” 

The decision: Other than the fact that adults probably do owe kids something considering young people have been burdened with dealing with climate change, student debt and an impenetrable housing market, the chair ruled there were no grounds for the complaint to proceed. They noted that based on other ASB ads with the same characters, it was likely there was a familial or neighbourly relationship between the child and adults, and that the comments weren’t disrespectful.

Not nice for the mice (May 2021)

The ad: Sitting next to a fireplace in his pyjamas is actor Dave Fane who begins reading the nursery rhyme Three Blind Mice. As an animation of the story plays, Fane explains how the tailless mice begin to fall into a downward spiral because they’re no longer in a stable economic positing, opining: “How will they work if they are not able, no job no cover means no food on their table?” In the final scene, it shows a mouse trap set with cheese. The screen then goes black and we hear the sound of the trap snapping shut. The ad is for Partners Life insurance, who insist things don’t have to end “unhappily ever after”.

The complaint: Unlike the Mortein commercial which also depicted an extermination in animated form, this complaint had nothing to do with traumatised children and everything to do with the economic climate and mental health crisis currently ravaging society today.

“How irresponsible is it in these hard covid times where a lot of people have lost their jobs is it to implacable that because a ’mouse’ is injured out, out of work and struggling that he should take himself out into the cold to find a mouse trap and commit suicide. This ad is absolutely deplorable and is targeting vulnerable people. Completely unacceptable,” wrote the complainant

The decision: To be fair, the ad is pretty grim. But also, mice don’t have jobs or access to health insurance, and are probably too dumb to know how to commit suicide anyway. 

In their final decision, the chair agreed with this sentiment, stating that they didn’t think the likely consumer takeout of the mouse getting caught in the trap was the result of a suicide attempt but rather, that the mouse was “attracted to the prize of the big cheese and didn’t know getting caught in the trap was even a risk”. Therefore, no grounds to proceed.

An unexpected event (June 2021)

The ad: It’s another insurance commercial, this time by Life Direct. The ad features a man drinking coffee while sitting inside the mouth of an artificial shark. He tells the audience not to worry though because he’s got life insurance. He then gets zapped into thin air when he’s struck by a bolt of lightning (the shark’s fine though). 

The complaint: “My complaint is that if this man went missing whilst at sea in an unrecorded event [with] no body to reclaim then the insurance company would fight like hell to prevent paying out due to lack of evidence,” the complainant quibbled. “A very poor and unlikely example of life insurance validation.”

The decision: We love a dry, technical, overly-realistic whinge about a deliberately hyperbolic situation for comedic effect, and like most complaints in this vein, the chair ultimately ruled that the complaint had no grounds to proceed. 

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Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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