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Research: Most complained about UK TV ads

February 21, 2022

Research carried out by Sortlist has revealed the TV ads which Brits have complained about the most, as well as the industries taking the majority of these complaints and the type of adverts receiving the most negative feedback.

The most complained about ad of all time, with 5,523 complaints is Paddy Power’s 2015 campaign. The bookmakers offered punters their money back if Paralympian Oscar Pistorius was cleared of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp after the tragic incident in 2013. The advert featured Pistorious superimposed on a statue of an Oscar award alongside the tagline: “It’s Oscar Time. Money back if he walks”.Many of the complaints resulted from the mockery of Pistorious’ disability and the jovial attitude towards Steenkamp’s death. Pistorius was convicted later that year and sentenced to 13 years in prison.

In the runner-up position, with over 3,000 complaints so far, is Tesco’s TV campaign featured Father Christmas on his way to deliver presents across the world and using a Covid vaccine passport to get through airport security. The vast majority of complaints asserted that the ad was coercive and encouraged medical discrimination based on vaccine status, likely receiving negative attention from the anti-vax movement.

Top 10 most complained about TV ads in the UK




Number of complaints


Paddy Power

Oscar Pistorius




Father Christmas’ Covid passport







Jab & Go



Paddy Power

The Blind Wanderers FC



Go Compare

Compario’s Car Crash




Delivery Lies




Great Dane Riding




Misleading Environment Claims



Mondelez (Cadbury)

Freddo the Frog Comic


The research also revealed:

  • Roofoods Ltd also known as Deliveroo, racked up over 300 complaints and negative rulings for their TV ads, which is more than any other company featured.
  • Looking at the types of industries accumulating the most ad complaints, food delivery took top spot, with automobiles in second and beverages in third place.
  • When it comes to the many reasons why the British public complain about TV ads, misleading information came out on top, with over 500 complaints and negative rulings.
  • TV ads have been named the most complained about, whilst adverts in the press finished in second and posters in third place.

Nicolas Finet, CMO at Sortlist, commented: “Advertisements are the perfect opportunity for brands to share the values with their customers, but sometimes it doesn’t always go to plan. In today’s fast-paced media industry, it can be easy for a brand to get lost, so it is vital to stand out and receive attention. However, sometimes ‘thinking outside the box’ for brands can take an unfortunate turn. Marketing methods such as TV ads or modern forms such as online adverts can be extremely powerful for revenue and brand awareness, but it’s crucial to remember that what a brand portrays in an advert is what a consumer will see as their core values. Indeed, if these aren’t seen as positive and empowering, it could be detrimental for the profile of the brand.”

“A solid strategy is key in order to be able to get the correct balance between how you deliver your brands core values via ads and how your customers will portray them. If you’re new to the advertising space, then seeking expert help from an advertising agency is a great place to begin. Sometimes having an external help to develop your brand is the best way to avoid misconception and the famous bad buzz. Our research has revealed that the top 10 most complained about adverts in the UK racked up over 15,000 complaints, which goes to show that the British public aren’t afraid to express their opinions if they believe a brand has crossed the line. With this in mind, it’s important that brands across the country delve into the values of their customers prior to carrying out any marketing activity,” she concluded.

Categories: Advertising, Articles, Consumer Behaviour, Research

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