When television adverts cross the line

PUBLISHED: 10:27 14 November 2018 | UPDATED: 10:30 14 November 2018

Iceland's new Christmas TV ad has been banned for being too political (C) Iceland

Iceland's new Christmas TV ad has been banned for being too political (C) Iceland


As support continues to gather for Iceland stores’ banned Christmas ad, Lynne Mortimer looks at how it measures up to other banned and complained-about TV commercials over the years

Kylie (here in 2009) featured in an Agent Provocateur ad. Picrure: Zak Hussein/PA WireKylie (here in 2009) featured in an Agent Provocateur ad. Picrure: Zak Hussein/PA Wire

The reason we were given for the banning of Iceland’s Christmas ad was that it is political and thus, not allowed.

This, naturally caused a huge surge in interest. At the time of writing the ad had been watched by millions on social media − 13 million on Iceland’s Facebook page, three million on the company’s Youtube and, on Twitter, around 15 million views.

A petition to get Iceland’s Christmas advert shown on TV has reached more than 670,000 signatures.

The animated advert highlights the impact of palm oil on rainforests and orangutan and, you may wonder, what’s political about palm oil? It wasn’t this that did for it though, it was because the ad was originally made by the environmental organisation Greenpeace.

A KFC chicken ad featuring a dancing chicken drew complaints from the public. 

Picture: James BassA KFC chicken ad featuring a dancing chicken drew complaints from the public. Picture: James Bass

The rules say the laws on advertising are breached if it is “inserted by or on behalf of a body whose objects are wholly or mainly of a political nature”.

In short, nothing wrong with the ad, it’s the involvement of Greenpeace that falls foul of the rules and it’s the broadcasters that have to ensure the ads they show are not in breach of the regulations.

A big old fuss about nothing? Well, you can see why making an exception might be a problem.

There is a long and not so honourable tradition of banned and pulled ads.

There was a time this man might have been Tango-ed. Picture: David Devins/NewscastThere was a time this man might have been Tango-ed. Picture: David Devins/Newscast

In May 2017, McDonalds withdrew an ad that featured a boy whose father was deceased. He asks his mum what his dad was like and then they go to McDonalds where the lad has a Filet-o-fish. His mother comments that this was his father’s favourite too. Comments on social media labelled it “cynical” and the fast food giant decided to axe the commercial.

In 2001, an Agent Provocateur advert featuring Kylie wearing lacy, black, partly see-through pants, suspenders, stocking and matching bra while riding a mechanical bull proved too provocative for television but it was shown in cinemas. Even 17 years on, it looks pretty racy although compared to the 2006 German ad for Optiker (Optician) featuring a couple in a car − I can say no more − it might be considered quite tame.

And who could forget the orange bloke who “Tango-ed” people imbibing the eponymous fizzy drink by slapping them on both cheeks. At the end, the voice over announced: “You know when you’ve been Tango-ed”. It seemed harmless enough until children copied the idea. The ad was remade with a kiss replacing the slap.

There was a Hyundai car ad that showed women turned on by the vehicle as it was driven past. I might have complained on the grounds of inaccuracy...

I’m not sure what to think about the ad that shows a daughter talking to her mother through what appears to be an American-type prison screen. The shot pans out to show the mother is actually the other side of a shower screen, attempting to get rid of an awful line of dirt in the bath with Vim bathroom cleaner.

In the UK in 2017, the majority of the most-complained-about ads were targeted for being misleading (73%) with the remainder being upbraided for being offensive (16%), causing harm (6%) and miscellaneous (5%).

The highest number of complaints in 2017 was 755 relating to a KFC ad featuring a dancing chicken.

The dvertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that although there were complaints this was disrespectful to chickens and distressing for vegetarians, vegans and children, and that it depicted a chicken who was heading for slaughter, that it was unlikely to cause distress or serious or widespread offence as there were no explicit references to animal slaughter.

I am reminded of a TV commercial in which a big fat garden pea was not allowed into a pack of frozen peas while the small, tender peas were welcomed. And there was the one where blackcurrants willingly sacrificed themselves to make a popular fruit cordial.

Also in the top 10, last year, was Unilever UK Ltd’s series of commercials for Dove, which contained statistics and opinions about breast-feeding in public. Complaints focused on the possibility these might encourage criticism of breast-feeding. Dove pulled the ads and apologised rendering an ASA investigation unnecessary.

V.I.Poo air freshener − the thrust of the commercial is that a fictional starlet uses the product as a matter of etiquette after using the loo. The ASA ruled it was light-hearted and that a reference to the “devil’s dumplings” was unlikely to break the rules on causing offence. It’s still a bit icky though, isn’t it?

ASA’s chief executive Guy Parker said: “Tackling misleading ads continues to be the bread and butter of our work, but 2017 again showed that it is ads that have the potential to offend that attract the highest numbers of complaints. But multiple complaints don’t necessarily mean that an ad has fallen on the wrong side of the line...”

Meanwhile, hold on to your hats for this year’s end-of-year report because, in the half year to June 2018, 7,232 ads were amended or withdrawn, compared to 7,099 in the whole of 2017.

(Sources: Youtube and

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