Subscribe to industry newsletters

Advertise on Bizcommunity

Manufacturing Indaba 2018

Global ad watchdogs toughen up on offensive advertising

If the level of pettiness of complaints to the world's advertising standards authorities is anything to go by, the world's consumers are certainly getting a lot more sensitive about what they see in advertising.
And as a result, more and more ads that world have quite easily have passed muster 20 years ago are now being hauled off TV and cinema screens and out of newspapers and magazines.

A quick check on the Internet produced a list of 15 of the world's most "offensive, banned and rejected" advertisements. Admittedly, some of them are decidedly tacky and make no marketing sense whatsoever, clearly just designed to be shocking for shock's sake.

Judge for yourself

But, the majority would probably not have raised a single eyebrow 20 years ago. Have a look at the ads below and judge for yourself.

The big question, of course, is this:

Are advertising standards watchdogs simply getting stricter and a lot more conservative or are consumers really a lot more sensitive these days?

And if the latter is the case, is it just a question of a tiny minority of over-eager Mother Grundies trying to dictate to dictate levels of morality on behalf of the majority or do those few, who complain so bitterly and sometimes from a position of such pettiness, actually represent the opinion of the majority?

Bacardi - Canada - Banned as it "objectified and demeaned women" (ASC)
click to enlarge
Kiss Tobacco - Israel - Banned as it contains "obscenity and ressemblance of human beings"
click to enlarge
Paddy Power - Ireland - Banned as "the betting odds referred to each woman's chances of either being knocked down by the truck were offensive and demeaned older people"
click to enlarge
Energizer - Chile - Rejected by the client
click to enlarge
NO2ID - UK - Most Complained as "the barcode on Tony Blair's upper lip made him resemble Hitler, which was offensive"
click to enlarge
Killer Heels by NMA - UK - Banned as it "trivialised and stylised violence"
click to enlarge
Department of Health - UK - Banned as it can "frighten and distress children"
click to enlarge
Gucci - UK - Banned
click to enlarge
Six Feet Under TV Series - UK - Banned as they were "offensive, shocking and likely to cause undue distress"
click to enlarge
Diesel - UK - Banned as its "sexual image was likely to cause serious or widespread offence and was unsuitable in a magazine that could be seen by children"
click to enlarge
Russian Finance Magazine - RUSSIA - Banned for being "immoral"
click to enlarge
The Rules of Attraction (movie) - USA - Banned as "the copulating toys were considered offensive and obscene"
click to enlarge
Tom Ford - USA - Most Complained as "it was sexually explicit"
click to enlarge
Towers Anti-Smoking Campaign - CHINA - Rejected as "inappropriate"
click to enlarge
The Breast Cancer Fund - USA - Rejected by advertising spaces run by Viacom "over fears that its depiction of mastectomy scars would prove to be too shocking to the public"
click to enlarge

About Chris Moerdyk

Apart from being a corporate marketing analyst, advisor and media commentator, Chris Moerdyk is a former chairman of Bizcommunity. He was head of strategic planning and public affairs for BMW South Africa and spent 16 years in the creative and client service departments of ad agencies, ending up as resident director of Lindsay Smithers-FCB in KwaZulu-Natal. Email Chris on and follow him on Twitter at @chrismoerdyk.
I think some were really good, particularly...-
Russian Finance Magazine.
Posted on 17 Jun 2009 13:37
Rutendo Chabururuka
Good to Keep Watch-
I really agree with all the banned contents because advertisers are becoming conveniently oblivious of the moral decadence that comes with some of their messages. We must be wary of the fact that consumers are emerging from various cultural backgrounds and that must be considered when messages for public consumption are being churned out in the press,tv or online. In Zimbabwe there is a cigarette brand that has produced advertising material that borders on the obscene but because there are rather relaxed enforcement of advertising standards there is nobody challenging the implications of those messages. It is good to keep watch of standards so that we do not justify obscene messages for liberal thought.
Posted on 17 Jun 2009 14:52
Joy-Mari Cloete
These ads are offensive-
They're sexist, misogynist and thoughtless. And no, Chris, they people who are complaining are most certainly not petty nor are they too sensitive. Yes, you're probably correct that had those ads been aired 20 years ago, no-one would've complained. Or very few would've complained. But surely it's a sign that we are becoming more progressive than what we had been 20 years ag0?
Posted on 18 Jun 2009 09:34
Claire Lees
Volume driven-
Some of these are fantastic, but I find the vast majority either too explicit or sexist and really don't want to see them on billboards or in magazines. And no, I've never been considered a petty mother grundy. I think the problem is that the ratio of "offensive" to "normal" ads has changed from what is was 20 years ago. For example, 1 sexist/mysognistic ad in, say, 30 regular ads in a mag if effective and rather funny. When it rises to 15 out of 30 the effect is quite different - they don't seem as much of a laugh as they used to be...
Posted on 23 Jun 2009 11:57
Martin Hesse
Raised eyebrows-
I don't agree that most of the ads wouldn't have raised an eyebrow 20 years ago. The sexually explicit/suggestive ones would not have got further than the creative director's desk. In fact, the only ones whose banning I consider petty are Blair with a Hitler moustache, the guy hooked like a fish, and "Killer Heels", which is artistically stunning. All three are British ads, which says something for Britain as a nation of mother grundies (and also for the creativeness of its agencies).
Posted on 23 Jun 2009 12:02
Bad ads are offensive-
There should be a control board that bans kak ads. More than ninety percent of ads out there are really, really bad.
Posted on 8 Jul 2009 22:32
whatever Chris-
I'm amazed that you think people are being too sensitive! and then you go on a tangent about mothers and pettiness...
Posted on 16 Jul 2009 10:36