Too hot to handle: the ads banned from our TV screens

You’ve just purchased a brand new Land Rover Defender, so obviously the first thing you’ll want to do is  copy the ad and go and park on a cliff edge.  Problem is the parking sensors wouldn’t be triggered by the empty space behind the car, so what do you do? Not park on a cliff edge springs to mind, but failing that, just complain to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that the ad is misleading.

And that’s exactly what has happened. In their defence Land Rover has stated that the cars were reversing towards boulders, but the ASA has said this wasn’t obvious enough so the ads can’t be shown again.

And that’s the thing about ads getting banned.  Sometimes they are banned or withdrawn for the right reasons, such as perpetrating gender stereotypes, being racist or making misleading claims. Other times it feels like they are banned because of complaints from a few people, who dare we say it, have too much time on their hands and are simply overthinking things. Yes, there is a valid point about the Land Rover ads, but on the other hand, who in their right mind would ever want to park that close to a cliff edge!

We take a look at some of the most infamous ads that have been banned from our TV screens. And while most of them were banned for good reason, we can’t help feeling some of them should have been banned simply for being bad ads!

Tango – You know when you’ve been tango’d

We start with a classic. Tango wanted to make their advertising a bit different, so rather than following the norm of focusing on how people’s lives are improved by a product, they focused on the taste Tango delivers.

But after children in school playgrounds started copying the Orange Man and causing injury to other children, this ad got pulled. Ironically, the original concept had been the Tango drinker being kicked on the bum, but the advertising authority wouldn’t allow it!

Despite being banned, the ad led to a boost in sales by more than a third and is often cited as being one of the greatest ads ever.

And this raises a crucial point about TV ads. They have to be on brand, on message and resonate with your target audience. If you don’t truly understand your brand and reflect it in your ads, then no matter how good (or bad) the ads are, they won’t deliver the results you want.

Coalition of UK Brewers – Let There Be Beer

Back in 2013, some of Britain’s biggest beer brands got together to launch an ad which aimed to ‘celebrate the role that beer can play in life, but in a light-hearted, amusing way’.

But the Alcohol Concern Youth Alcohol Council took issue with the fact that it seemed to imply alcohol helps overcome nervousness and makes people more popular.  It was deemed to have broken the rules and promptly banned.

We tend to agree with the Coalition of UK Brewers that the ‘exaggerated and surreal storylines’, don’t make you think ‘oh, I’ll have a drink, and everyone will like me’; however, we’re also not convinced the ad would inspire more people to drink beer.

Not only does it look like any other generic beer ad, but they also don’t show a wide range of beers which is what it’s meant to be about. In fact, if you told us, it was for a new lager brand, we’d believe you!

Now compare it with Magners who back in 2006 were responsible for the revival of the cider market, by simply suggesting you drink cider over ice. Now that’s what you call inspired marketing.

BBC Sport – Six Nations 2012

I don’t know about you, but we thought this ad was quite funny. It’s a BBC promotional trailer for the 2012 Six Nations, which focused on fans united in rivalry. But BBC Sport pulled it after complaints it was ‘anti-English’. By happy accident (really?), it was leaked online and went viral.

Given it shows the English fans at the end having their own say on who they want to lose, we don’t really see what the issue is and actually agree with the sentiment. But then, heaven forbid we offend anyone.

Zazoo – I want the big bag

This ad was eventually banned from all television channels, but it’s actually pretty funny.

It might not be the most obvious way of promoting the use of condoms, but we bet it made some people think twice!

Kinder Surprise – Egg Man

Kinder Surprise is all about ‘a world of fun and entertainment’, while ‘reassuring parents at the same time’, so the real surprise is this ad was ever made. We can see what they were aiming for but who on earth thought this character was a good idea?

It was pulled for being too creepy and scaring children and highlights perfectly the importance of ensuring all your touch points are on brand and on message.

Mercedes – Beauty is nothing without brains

Most car ads are pretty pretentious and tend to involve driving along a long windy road through stunning scenery, but at least they show the car off at its best.

In comparison this ad is a great example of how using lazy stereotypes is never a good idea, especially if those stereotypes don’t fit in with your overall brand image.

If Skoda had done this ad, we would have understood, but Mercedes? It hardly screams luxury, precision, and prestige.

It also makes you grateful for the ban on harmful gender stereotypes which means we shouldn’t be seeing any more of this nonsense. 

Xbox – Life is Short

Another example of a banned ad whose notoriety didn’t do it any harm is ‘Champagne’, the  Xbox ad aired in 2002 to mark its release in the UK.

Showing a man being born and then crashing into his own grave, it was considered to be ‘offensive, shocking and in bad taste’, and definitely not the ‘positive statement about life’ that Microsoft intended.

But its ban just made it more successful, with the spot winning several awards include one at the Cannes Lions Awards.

And it’s good to see that this didn’t stop Xbox producing controversial ads.  Standoff’, which sees people playing ‘shoot ‘em up’ with their fingers, was never aired on TV because Microsoft’s lawyers objected to the suggestion of violence.  We can understand their concern, but it’s also a great ad which is on brand and effectively conveys the thrill of gaming.

While most of the ads above were banned for the right reasons, there are a couple we would argue were pulled to protect people’s sensibilities, but whether that is a good or bad thing is a whole separate debate.

But one of the key takeaways is – make sure your branding is right and is accurately reflected in any TV advertising. And if you do need any help with that, take a look at our brand workshops, which will help ensure you get it right from the outset.