Last week, the ASA ordered Paddy Power to remove a newspaper ad offering “money back” on bets if Oscar Pistorius is found not guilty of murder. The ad showed a photograph of the South African Paralympian superimposed on a statue of an Oscar award, with the words: “It’s Oscar Time. Money back if he walks. We will refund all losing bets on the Oscar Pistorius trial if he is found not guilty“. The ASA received 5,200 complaints about the ad, making it the most controversial campaign of all time. It surpassed that of the Kentucky Fried Chicken ad which was previously the most complained about ad with 1,671 complaints and featured call centre workers singing with their mouths full of KFC products.

As a result of the “unprecedented number of complaints”, the ASA has taken the “unusual step” of withdrawing the ad with “immediate effect” pending an investigation. It said it was investing whether the ad is “offensive for trivialising the issues surrounding a murder trial, the death of a woman and disability”. The ASA is also considering whether the ad “brings the good reputation of advertising generally into disrepute”. The campaign was launched to coincide with the Oscar ceremony in Los Angeles and the first day of Pistorius’ trial in South Africa. Prosecutors allege that Pistorius, 27, shot his model and reality TV star girlfriend through the bathroom door at his home on Valentine’s day in 2013. Pistorius insists he mistook her for an intruder.

The influx of complaints has, to some degree, been fuelled by the online petition on which has attracted over 126,000 signatures. Protesters claim that the “death of a woman should not be used as a publicity stunt” and call it a “disgusting low”. Paddy Power’s chief executive, Patrick Kennedy, told one newspaper that the company was justified in running the bet because it was the “most talked about and reported story of the year. This is about the trial not about the murder”. The ASA has said that the ad will remain out of circulation in all UK media until the investigation, which is being “fast-tracked”, is concluded.