Unilever, Tesco and Phones4U are all under fire from the U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority, which has recently banned ads from all three companies.
The self-regulatory body that oversees British ads investigates 10 to 15 complaints a week. Some complaints are brought by outraged members of the public, as in the case of mobile phone company Phones4U, whose ad shows Jesus lauding deals on phones as "miraculous," and others by arch-rivals bridling at product comparisons, such as Procter & Gamble denouncing Unilever's claim to have the most trusted fabric conditioner brand.
The ASA has been unusually busy lately. This week supermarket chain Tesco is fighting back against the ban on its spot for Butcher's Choice sausages. The ad shows pigs roaming a field at dawn before making their way back to a spacious barn, accompanied by a caring farmer. Complaints to the ASA suggested that the ads were misleading, because they implied that the meat used for the sausages came from free-range pigs.
Tesco argued that the ad, made by agency the Red Brick Road, was filmed on a genuine supplier's farm, and that its pigs are reared to world-class welfare standards. The retailer said the ad is not misleading because it shows pigs both indoors and outdoors.
The ASA, however, upheld the complaints. The regulator said, "The pigs were shown wandering unrestricted outside and, within the indoor barn scene, the barn door was shown to be open and the pigs' movement unrestricted. ... Since we understood that this is not the case, we concluded that the ad was misleading."
A spokesman for the supermarket said, "We're a bit baffled by this ruling. The farmer featured is a Tesco supplier and produces some of the pork featured in our ad. We genuinely don't see how the ASA can say an ad showing a genuine Tesco farmer can be misleading."
Unilever's TV spot, for Comfort fabric conditioner, was also judged misleading this week by the ASA, in response to a complaint from rival P&G. The Ogilvy & Mather ad described Comfort Pure as the "U.K.'s most trusted fabric conditioner for sensitive skin."
P&G, which manufactures its own fabric-conditioner brands, complained that the line was misleading because it was based purely on sales data. Text at the bottom of the screen stated, "Based on IRI sales data 08/10-12/10," but the ASA agreed with P&G that "most trusted" and "most frequently purchased" are not synonymous.
Mobile phone company Phones4U had an ad banned last week for being "disrespectful" to the Christian faith. The print ad, by Adam & Eve London, featured an illustration of Jesus winking and giving a thumbs-up to Phones4U's "miraculous" deals on Samsung Galaxy Android phones.
Phones4U defended itself to the ASA, claiming it presented "a light-hearted, positive and contemporary image of Christianity." However, the company later issued a statement saying it "understood and regretted" that the ad offended.