An advert showing a surgeon performing a brain operation while organising a holiday online has been banned after complaints it was offensive, distressing and insulting.

The ad for holiday website Kayak.co.uk showed the surgeon "poking around" in the brain before typing on a laptop positioned on the patient.

After a discussion between the surgeon and a nurse about the ethics of the manoeuvre, the surgeon replied sarcastically: "Well, I guess you're the brains of this operation" before moving the patient's arms as if he were punching the nurse.

A voice-over stated: "Go to Kayak.co.uk and you could save up to 20% on your next flight. Kayak. Search one and done."

The ad was cleared for broadcast with no timing restriction.

Of the 441 complaints received by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), "a number" found it offensive, 25 were concerned that it could be distressing to children and 16 believed it was insulting to surgeons and the medical profession in general.

Others including people who had either undergone brain surgery or were about to, and some who had lost family members to brain tumours and other neurological conditions, complained that the ad was "distressing and deeply upsetting".

Kayak acknowledged that "humour could offend at times", and said it tested its advertising for clarity, entertainment value and acceptability but did not see anything wrong with it.

The ad was "so obviously a parody that it was not offensive", the company said and "was neither intended to portray real-life drama nor to prey on fear or anxiety."

The ASA rejected all the complaints except for those made by viewers who had either personally experienced brain surgery or who had family members who had undergone or were about to undergo that type of surgery.

It said: "Although we understood the ad was intended to be a humorous depiction of someone pressed for time searching for a holiday, we noted a number of complainants had found it distressing and some had found it sickening and deeply offensive because of their personal experience.

"We considered the ad's flippant treatment of a serious and recognisably real situation was likely to cause distress and serious offence to those viewers who had been affected by the type of operation depicted in the ad. We considered the ad was likely to cause distress without justifiable reason and serious offence to some viewers and therefore concluded it breached the Code."

It ruled that the ad must no longer be broadcast in its present form.

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