A record number of ads in the UK were complained about in 2006, led by a flood of complaints for a Gay Police Association campaign (pictured).

The (ASA) Annual Report, published today, shows that 12,842 ads incited complaints last year, up from 11,865 in 2005. As a result, 2,421 ads were charged or withdrawn compared to 2,241 the year before.

However, the total number of complaints lodged with the ASA actually fell by 14.5 per cent on the previous year to 22,429.

Advertisers and agencies wishing to avoid the wrath of the ASA in 2007 would do well to steer of religion, violent imagery and same-sex kissing, if last year's complaints are anything to go by.

The national press ad by the Gay Police Association generated the most complaints (553) by a considerable margin. The ad featured a alongside copy that linked religious motivation behind homophobic incidents, with the strapline “in the name of the father”.

The ASA upheld three of the five issues raised, concluding the creative was offensive and misleading, both in its suggestion that all incidents involved physical injury and in its statistical claims, which it could not prove.

Commenting on this year's report, Lord Borrie QC, chairman of the ASA, said: “2006 may have seen a rise in the number of ads attracting complaints, but, pleasingly, the proportion of ads falling foul of the advertising codes did not rise.”

TV continued to be the most complained about media (8,594 complaints), but the top three most offensive ads all appeared in the press: the Gay Police Association, HM Revenues and Customs, and .

The growing importance of the internet as an advertising medium and an information provider was mirrored by a huge increase in complaints, up a third to 2,006.

“The internet is now the second most complained about non-broadcast advertising format – a rise unmatched by any other media,” said Lord Borrie. “Yet the boundaries of regulatory responsibility online are still unclear. The industry needs to address this issue quickly so that consumer faith in online messages can be as as it is for advertising that appears in traditional formats.”

The annual report, only the second published by ASA since its remit was extended to cover broadcast ads in November.2004, also appears to show that the self-regulatory system has been successful in responding to public policy concerns.

The body made its first adjudications under the new stricter alcohol rules in 2006 and public consultations were launched on the introduction of new rules for gambling advertising and on food advertising aimed at children on television.

Top 10 most complained about ads of 2006

1. Gay Police Association

553 complaints

Appearing in the national press, this ad pictured a Bible in order to highlight a religious motivation behind homophobic incidents. Attracting complaints from such bodies as Christian Watch and the Evangelical Alliance Christian groups, the ad was perceived as offensive to Christians and discriminatory in tone.

Three out of the five issues raised were upheld, with the ad judged to be offensive, misleading in its suggestion that all incidents involved physical injury and in its statistical claims, which were never proven to the ASA.

Complaints upheld

2. HM Revenues and Customs

271 complaints
A national press ad depicting what appeared to be a self-employed plumber evading tax by hiding under the kitchen sink. The ad attracted complaints from a number of organisations and members of the public who considered that the ad implied self-employed people – plumbers in particular – were tax-evaders and was thus both misleading and offensive.

HM Revenues & Customs apologised for any offence caused and said they had amended the ad in light of the complaints. The ASA's investigation concluded most people would not infer from the ad that self-employed people were tax-evaders.

Complaints not upheld

3. Dolce & Gabbana

166 complaints
D&G's national press ad attracted complaints from those concerned about its glamorisation of knives and violence. One of the ads had appeared opposite a news article about a knife crime.

Despite D&G's protestation that the ads highly-stylised approach was inspired by well-known paintings of the Napoleonic period, the ASA judged the advertisements to be socially irresponsible and offensive.
Complaints upheld

4. Motorola Ltd

160 complaints
Complainants protested that this national press ad for a mobile phone was offensive and irresponsible, condoning knife-related violence and glamorising sexual violence.

Newspapers publishing the ad agreed with 's defence that it was highly stylised, clearly a pun to coincide with the tagline ˜The Cutting Edge of Technology' and that it did not glamorise violence. The ASA decided that most readers of the newspapers would appreciate the intention of the ad.

Complaints not upheld

5. Carphone Warehouse

145 complaints
Complaints were received from competitors and members of the public about the lack of clarity and the potentially misleading statements in television and national press campaign.

Complaints were upheld on three out of the four issues, most notably on its claim to be ‘˜free forever'. The ASA decided the ad was misleading and the availability of the service was insufficiently explained.

Complaints upheld

127 complaints

An investigation was deemed unjustified, with the ASA deciding that the fight was highly-stylised and, in context, did not reflect criminal assault. The kiss was also found not to be in breach of the code.

Concerns that it should not be seen by children were also unjustified because of the post-watershed scheduling restriction.

Complaints not justified

7. Channel 5 Broadcasting Ltd t/a Five US

99 complaints
The advertisers protested that such accusations were clearly only in relation to the first stage of their campaign and that the purpose of the channel was to celebrate American films and television. The ASA judged that the poster was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence or to incite racial violence.

Complaints not upheld

8. Kellogg Company of GB Ltd.

96 complaints
Objections to a Kelloggs television ad featuring a man riding a dog, claimed that it portrayed cruelty to animals and would encourage viewers to try the same stunt at home.

In their response, backed by the Broadcasting Advertising Clearance Centre (BACC), Kelloggs said the ad was clearly surreal in nature, no dog was actually ridden during filming and that the already-imposed scheduling restriction would prevent children from copying the ad. The ad also featured a ‘Don't try this with your dog at home' warning.

Complaints not upheld

9. National Federation of Cypriots

93 complaints
This regional press advertising feature drew complaints from a human rights organisation, concerned it was offensive to the Turkish community and likely to incite racial hatred.

The NFC rejected the accusation that the showing Cyprus was dripping with blood and protested that it denoted the line of division in the country. They said that ‘˜Do not forget' referred to all who had suffered including Turkish people. Complaints were not upheld except for the challenge that it was insufficiently clear that the ad was advertising material.

Complaints upheld

10. Dolce & Gabbana

89 complaints

Complaints into D&G's television ad, which showed a brief kiss between two males, ranged from protestations that it was unsuitable for children to objections that ads showing two men kissing were unacceptable at any time.

The BACC had approved the ad on the condition it was not shown around programmes aimed specifically at children and believed the ad did not require further restriction. The ASA agreed with the BACC.

Complaints not upheld