Britain's Ad Authority Releases Most-Hated List

This week Britain's Advertising Standards Authority turned 50. To celebrate, it released a list of the 50 most-complained-about commercials in U.K. history. The one that generated the most viewer complaints was not about sex, violence or politics: It was a KFC ad in which the actors spoke with their mouths full.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The agency that monitors advertising in Britain turned 50 this week and in honor of the occasion it released a list of the most-hated ads ever to air on the telly. Vicki Barker reports.

VICKI BARKER, BYLINE: In this ad from 2010 for Paddy Power, an Irish-based betting company, some blind soccer players kick a ball with a bell on it. They don't see but we see and the ref sees Tiddles the cat wander onto the field and then...

(SOUNDBITE OF CAT SCREECHING)

BARKER: ...the ref puts a consoling arm over the player's shoulder.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMMERCIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as Referee) Paddy Power can't get Tiddles back. There's nothing we could do about that. But we can get you your money back.

BARKER: Never mind that we don't actually see the moment of impact or that an unharmed Tiddles is shown high up in a tree where he's landed.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMMERCIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as Referee) Check them out before you bet on paddypower.com.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAT SCREECHING)

BARKER: 1,313 irate British animal lovers complained to the Advertising Standards Authority, making this the third most unpopular ad aired in its 50-year history. Which makes you wonder what was number one.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC FROM COMMERCIAL)

BARKER: Step forward, fast food chain KFC which, in 2005, showed women in a call center singing KFC's praises with their mouths full.

SARAH GASKILL: Things like table manners, children, whether or not adverts are suitable for children, women, animal cruelty, religion, all of these things really get the British public talking and complaining in large numbers.

BARKER: Sarah Gaskill of the Advertising Standards Authority. Another offender - a 1995 safe-sex PSA that showed the pope in a hard hat with the slogan: Thou shalt always wear a condom. The watchdog agency upheld that complaint, agreeing that Roman Catholics could reasonably find it offensive and hurtful, and the ad was yanked.

But the agency did not uphold the complaints about either the airborne cat or the masticating call center ladies, arguing that the ads were unlikely to encourage either animal cruelty or bad table manners. Perusing 50 years' worth of complaints, Gaskill says she was struck by something.

GASKILL: Although we've been around for 50 years, the same issues do crop up every year in our complaint figures.

BARKER: All through the swinging '60s, through Britain's growing racial and ethnic diversity and the rise of the Internet, an archetypal Briton has carried on being kind to animals, trying not to offend Brits of other faiths, and chewing with mouth firmly closed.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, KFC COMMERCIAL)

BARKER: For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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