An advertisement from Macmillan Cancer Support was one of the top 10 most complained-about in 2017, figures from the advertising watchdog show.
The Advertising Standards Authority has today released a list of the most complained-about adverts in the UK last year, with a Macmillan advert – which was cleared by the regulator – coming ninth on the list.
The advertisement, which was the subject of 116 complaints, shows a father reading a bedtime story to his daughter before cutting to fast-moving scenes of him receiving chemotherapy, vomiting, crying in a car and finally being comforted by a nurse.
People complained mainly that the imagery used was overly graphic and distressing.
But the ASA rejected the complaints, saying that although it understood some of the scenes might be upsetting for some viewers, they illustrated the reality of living with cancer.
The advert had also been appropriately scheduled to avoid being seen by children, the ASA found.
A television advert from the fast-food chain KFC featuring a dancing chicken was the most complained-about last year, with 755 complaints received by the ASA.
Complainants said it was disrespectful to chickens and distressing for vegetarians, vegans and children because it showed an animal that was to be killed.
But the regulator said the advert had no explicit references to animal slaughter and rejected the complaints.
Kate Barker, director of brand at Macmillan, said the charity tested its advert extensively with people affected by cancer to ensure it got the right tone and message.
"We wanted our adverts to portray an authentic picture of life with cancer, which means showing both the highs and the lows," she said.
"Treatment and its side-effects can often be gruelling, and we understand that this might be upsetting to see. Our goal was to reach more people with cancer so they can access vital Macmillan support."
Guy Parker, chief executive of the ASA, said: "Multiple complaints don’t necessarily mean that an advert has fallen on the wrong side of the line: we look carefully at the audience, the context and prevailing societal standards, informed by public research, before we decide."
Although all of the adverts in the top 10 attracted complaints for being offensive, the majority of the almost 30,000 complaints received last year by the ASA related to adverts being misleading, which was a factor in 73 per cent of the regulator’s cases.
None of the adverts in the top 10 had complaints upheld against them by the ASA, although in two cases the advertisers took the adverts down before the regulator investigated.