Watch: Six of retail’s most complained about adverts

We compile a list of 5 of the most complained about retail adverts for you watch - do you think they were that bad?
Tesco's 2021 Christmas advert

Getting advertising right can be a tricky business and sometimes in a bid to stand out and grab the attention of consumers brands can push it too far.

New research from ad agency platform Sortlist revealed the most complained about British TV ads of all time.

While only two retailers managed to make it into the top 10 – Tesco and Photobox – we take a look at some of the most complained retail ads over the years.

What do you think of the ads? Did they miss the mark or are the complaints unjustified? Let us know in the comments below.

Tesco – Father Christmas’ Covid passport

Tesco landed in the runner-up position in Sortlist’s ranking with more than 5,000 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for last year’s Christmas ad.

The ad featured Father Christmas on his way to deliver presents across the world, all while using his Covid vaccine passport to get through the ever-so-strict airport security.

It received the wrath of anti-vaxxers, with the vast majority of complaints received flagging that the ad was coercive and encouraged medical discrimination based on vaccine status


Photobox – Great Dane ride

The second retailer to feature on Sortlist’s most complained about ad list is Photobox.

The RSPCA and 211 other viewers complained about the photo printing company’s 2017 advert, which showed a family taking a photograph of their son sitting on the back of a Great Dane.

The complaints centred around concerns around animal cruelty. The ASA cleared the ad as Photobox provided a vet’s certificate, and were satisfied that the two dogs used were not harmed during the ad’s production.

The ad also had an “ex-kids” scheduling restriction applied so it would not be shown around children’s programming, which ASA said “made it unlikely for children to emulate the child sitting on the dog or come to harm as a result”.


Sainsbury’s

Sainsbury’s 2014 poignant Christmas TV ad showed a story based on the 1914 Christmas Day truce during the First World War.

However, the ad, made in partnership with The Royal British Legion, stimulated more than 800 complaints to the ASA, most of which objected to the use of an event from the First World War to advertise a supermarket.

The ASA did not deem the ad to be offensive or in breach of its advertising code.


John Lewis – Let life happen

Last year, the retailer was forced to pull its “Let life happen” home insurance advert for being ‘potentially misleading’ .

The ad showed a young boy dancing around his home to a Stevie Nicks soundtrack while dressed up in his mother’s clothes, heels and makeup, leaving a trail of destruction behind him. It ended with the slogan ‘let life happen’.

The advert was intended to be a feelgood clip, however, more than 300 complaints were received with some saying the retailer was ‘woke agenda-pushing’.

It also stoked the ire of the right-wing press, generating headlines such as ‘Why the new John Lewis advert is everything that’s wrong with modern Britain’ [The Telegraph] and ‘John Lewis and the dreadful little emperors’ [The Spectator].

Despite all the controversy, in the end the ad was pulled as the damage depicted in the advert would not actually be covered under John Lewis’ home insurance policy.

The retailer later said its accidental damage cover was available as an add-on to its new home contents insurance product and only covered accidental, not deliberate, damage.


Amazon – Same-day delivery

Back in 2019, an Amazon advert highlighting its same-day delivery service received almost 300 complaints after it aired.

While it seemed like a pretty tame campaign, shoppers were left complaining that in reality some of their packages didn’t arrive within a day like the ad suggested, with a significant number of Prime items not even available for next-day delivery.


Currys PC World

Currys’ 2017 Christmas advert upset some viewers with more than 100 complaints made to the regulator. The ad was about spending Christmas in front of the TV.

The ad shows a set of parents telling their children that they would like to celebrate Christmas “traditionally” this year by sitting by the fire, singing carols and having long conversations.

The mother then laughs at the visibly upset children and explains it was a joke and leads the family to the next room to show them a new Oleg TV that her employer, Currys PC World, have allowed her to bring home and test.

Complainants thought the ad was offensive because it promoted materialism and equated Christmas with watching TV instead of Christianity. However, the ASA believed it to be “light-hearted” and unlikely to cause serious offence as it did not ridicule Christianity.

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