The most offensive UK advertising campaign of all time is a 2005 KFC ad that features emergency hotline workers singing with their mouths full of crispy chicken, according to the Advertising Standards Authority, which released new data this week detailing all of the complaints they've received since the 1950s.
The ASA has dealt with a whopping 1,671 complaints about the ad since it premiered in 2005. For comparison, a 2010 Paddy Power ad in which a blind footballer kicked a cat across a field — wow, double offensive whammy there! — received 1,313 comments.
A 2009 Christian Party ad that proclaimed "There definitely is a God, so join the Christian party and enjoy your life" (Man, you've got to wonder what genius came up with that one. Maybe a particularly manipulative 8th grade girl?) got 1,204 complaints, and a 1995 ad featuring the Pope donning a hard hat with the tagline "The Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt always wear a condom" received 1,192. (Annoyingly, the ASA didn't uphold complaints that the Christian Party ad was, uh, not exactly possible to substantiate, but agreed with Catholics that the latter ad was offensive.)
A 2010 ad offering advice to women with unplanned pregnancies received 1,088 complaints in 2010, and an incredibly disturbing 2008 ad, at left, for the children's charity Barnado's featuring a girl being beaten up by her father got 840.
So why did Brits find the KFC ad more offensive than abortion, religion, or horrifically violent child abuse? Arwa Mahdawi argues in the Guardian that the outrage it provoked "reveals the cultural sensitivities that offend British sensibilities":
The fact that the most complained-about ad of all time concerned table manners, however, does seem to suggest that questions of etiquette are what keep this country awake at night. This particularly British sense of propriety manifests itself in everything from queuing to self-deprecation to replying to every third sentence with "sorry".
But it seems like Mahdawi didn't actually watch the ad, because the complaints are almost certainly due to the remarkably insensitive twist at the end. The ad features cubicle dwellers soulfully singing along with their mouths full, which is actually pretty funny until you find out that they work at an emergency helpline. The tagline reads: "The New Zinger Crunch Salad: It's just too tasty." The ad's clear subtext is that the salad is sooo tasty that the workers are too busy enjoying their lunch to help people with their life-or-death problems. There are more than "table manners" at stake here.
Still, it's kind of crazy that people were more offended by generic insensitivity than reproductive rights, deity controversies, and a blind guy kicking a cat. (Although the KFC ad came out before all the others, so maybe people have just had more time to complain about the first one.)
The ASA also released a list of the past year's most complained-about advertisements, and the winner, "Missing our Deals Will Haunt You," is fucking TERRIFYING. If The Ring's Samara still haunts your dreams, do not watch this. Wow, U.S. advertising just doesn't compare.