The 5 Most “Offensive” Ads Of 2018

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Gillette’s toxic masculinity ad has caused a huge uproar in the men-suffering-from-toxic-masculinity community.

Clive Palmer is giving everyone the shits (even though the election isn’t for another three months).

And Uber eats has successfully bamboozled honest tennis fans across the nation with their sneaky embedded ads.

There’s no doubt about it: The 2019 TV advertising season (a.k.a. the entire year) is set to be a cracker.

As we settle in and warm up our fingers to type angry complaints at the offensiveness and inappropriateness of all the ads to come this year, let’s stop to take a quick look back at the most complained about TV adverts of 2018.


1. Sportsbet’s manscaping ad

A record total of 6,600 complaints were sent to Ad Standards (Australia’s independent advertising complaints adjudicator) in 2018, 793 of which were about Sportsbet’s manscaping ad.

To put this in perspective, the previous record holder for most-complained-about-ad was a 2014 commercial that racked up what was thought to be a huge 643 complaints.

So what was all the fuss about?

Sportsbet’s manscaping ad was one of a series of free-to-air ads that involved a loud, obnoxious promotions announcer startling a person completing some intricate task – whether that be trimming a hedge, shaping pottery or, in this case, maintaining his bloke-bush. In each ad, the character ruins their project, taking a chunk out of the hedge, squeezing a clay vase back to a lump, and, well, you get the idea.

While most of the ads were innocent and funny, many people thought the manscaping edition crossed a line.

The ad was called out for depicting “a naked man behaving as though he is shaving his genitals in viewers’ lounge room” and for being “gross and creepy”, “demeaning to men”, “taking offence to a whole new level” and “depicting masturbation”.

The complaints were found to be valid and it was taken off air. No more manscaping in our lounge rooms, apparently.


2. iSelect’s piñata ad

Following on from the most-complained-about-ad ever comes the new second-most-complained-about-ad ever.

iSelect’s commercial showing a woman violently beating a piñata in at a child’s birthday party saw a whopping 716 complaints fly in.

In spite of iSelect arguing they are well known for producing “comical and witty” advertisements, it was the public’s opinion that the ad “depicts to children that violence is okay”, “depicts solving a problem with violence” and shows a woman with a “murderous” look on her face.

Ad Standard’s ultimately decided the ad “portrayed violence that was unjustifiable in the context of the service advertised”, and it was removed from broadcast.


3. Berlei’s bouncing boobs ad

This commercial for Berlei sports bras, which featured women playing sport using balls shaped as breasts, was one of my favourite ads of 2018.

In the ad, boob balls are seen squashing, bouncing and bending to reflect the trauma women’s actual breasts go through playing sport, before the message “Stop your boobs playing their own game” flashes across the screen.

Berlei are well known for talking openly about boobs – as they should be considering breasts are their business and over half the population have them (well, all of the population really). And, when making the ad, Berlei and their parent company Hanes Brands even took care to represent ethnically diverse boob balls.

Nipples are never free from controversy, however, and Berlei’s ad drew in 135 complaints. The reasons for complaints were varied, ranging from it being offensive to breast cancer sufferers, violent and suggestive of domestic violence, and reinforcing inequality between men and women. It was also said to be “normalising” breasts and giving young children the idea that it’s okay to show female breasts (newsflash: maybe it is…).

What was different about Ad Standard’s review of this ad compared to its treatment of the first two on this list was that a number of the complaints were immediately disregarded. The panel then dismissed the remaining issues without much dispute and the ad was allowed to continue playing.

Side note: One complainant was offended by the ad’s use of the term ‘boobs’ instead of ‘breasts’. I guess they’re going to find this article offensive too.


4. Ultra Tune’s Mike Tyson ad

You couldn’t have a list of Australia’s most complained about ads without an ad for Ultra Tune – the car servicing brand synonymous with controversy.

This edition of their “hot women in car trouble” themed advertisements saw three women driving along dressed in sexy Halloween costumes (“I’m a kitty cat, silly!” says one) when all of a sudden they spot a tiger in the middle of the road! Screaming, the lady-driver swerves and winds up on top of a large concrete plant box. A shattering glass sound effects let viewers know her car is broken.

Fortunately for the ladies, Mike Tyson is on the scene and he promptly lifts the car back to the ground! Thank god he was there, I know. Tyson, who is out looking for his lost pet tiger, then begins growling at the ladies to make sure they understand what a tiger is.

Introduce character five – an Ultra Tune Roadside Assist guy who turns up to provide some actual help – and the ad quickly ends, leaving viewers wondering, “WTAF?”.

This ad received 134 complaints, including allegations that it was depicted women as stupid and was “overtly sexist” and “out of touch with current attitudes to gender equality, sexual abuse and objectification”.

Some complainants also said the contet of the ad was inappropriate given Mike Tyson’s history of rape convictions, and others claimed it was exploitative of wild animals.

Ultimately, Ad Standards ruled that the women were not sexualised in the ad as they were shown calling Ultra Tune for help, so were in control of the situation. The complaints were dismissed and the ad remained on air.


5. Universal Pictures’ trailer for film ‘Halloween’

2018’s fifth most complained about ad was the trailer for horror film ‘Halloween’, which racked up 97 complaints for its violent and scary imagery.

The trailer, featuring knives, guns and a masked murderer on the loose, included several jump-scare moments where the killer was revealed hiding behind a door or curtain. As a side note, I found it really added something to the horror of the ad if I screamed right at these moments when watching it with my unsuspecting family.

The film was rated MA15+ for strong horror themes and violence, yet the TV trailer received a J rating meaning it could be broadcast at any time of day except during specific children’s programming. As such, complaints flew in about terrified children who had seen the ad in the 6:30pm to 7:30pm time slots.

Ad Standards’ panel concluded that the ad was highly menacing and frightening – particularly to children – and upheld the complaints.

Universal Pictures strongly opposed the decision, claiming the violence shown was justifiable given the nature of the film being advertised. Conveniently for Universal, however, there could be no fallout as Ad Standards’ verdict was handed down just as the film was being released and the advertising campaign wound up.


With such an eventful year of advertising behind us, we now launch forth into 2019 with great excitement.

Will we see even larger numbers of complaints?

Which company will piss us off the most?

How will the tasteless, lame lows of 2018 be beaten?

All we can do is watch and wait (with Ad Standard’s complaints lodgement webpage loaded at all times, of course).


This article was written by April Austen, a journalist by day and reality TV addict by night. Tweet her @aprilausten.

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