Two TV advertisements connected with charities were among the 10 most complained-about adverts in 2014, new figures from the advertising watchdog show.
The list, published today by the Advertising Standards Authority, shows that the Christmas advert from the supermarket chain Sainsbury’s, run in association with the Royal British Legion, was the fourth most complained-about advert last year, while a Save the Children advert, featuring a woman giving birth and in which the baby initially appears to have died, was in fifth place.
Complainants said that the Sainsbury’s advert, which featured a story based on the 1914 Christmas truce during the First World War, was offensive because it was being used to advertise a supermarket.
The 823 complaints about the advert were rejected at the initial stage by the ASA after initial inquiries and without the need for a formal investigation.
The ASA received 614 complaints about the Save the Children advert, which were rejected by the regulator after a formal investigation.
The regulator found that although the content of the advert could be distressing for some, it was broadcast only after 9pm and included a warning at the start.
A newspaper advert from the betting firm Paddy Power that invited people to bet on the outcome of the Oscar Pistorius murder trial and offered "money back if he walks" was the most complained-about in 2014 by far, attracting 5,525 complaints – the most ever received by the regulator. The ASA banned the advert.
The regulator said the fact that the three most complained-about adverts of all time appeared in 2014 showed the way social media had made it easier for people to voice their concerns about adverts.
The other two were a TV and cinema advert for the hotel website Booking.com and a promotion for a competition run by The Sun newspaper.
The Booking.com advert, which used the word "booking" in the place of a swear word, was the subject of 1,768 complaints, mostly that it encouraged bad language among children, putting it in second place. The complaints were not upheld.
An email sent to subscribers of The Sun newspaper’s fantasy football competition, inviting them to enter a competition with the prize of a date with a page 3 model, attracted 1,711 complaints and was banned by the regulator for being sexist and objectifying women.
The ASA said the complaints about Paddy Power and The Sun had been coordinated through the petition website Change.org.
Guy Parker, chief executive of the ASA, said: "2014 was the year social media came into its own in making it easier than ever to lodge complaints en masse. Some adverts will inevitably split opinion – as the diverse nature of complaints we received shows – but last year underlined the importance of our work in cracking down on misleading adverts that are simply unfair to consumers."