Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), British Veterinary Association (BVA)
Where: United Kingdom
When: 9 April 2020
Law stated as at: 11 May 2020
As the nation spends more time at home with pets and potentially consuming more advertising, the ASA published two news items relating to animals: health claims relating to products for animals and featuring animals in advertising.
Health claims relating to products for animals
In the first news item, the ASA reminds advertisers that health products for animals must comply with the law and be capable of substantiation, just like health products for humans. The guidance highlights the following issues:
- Claims that a product is effective in treating an adverse condition (for example, behaviour improvement in horses that refers to a nutrient deficiency): These are likely to be seen as medicinal products and therefore cannot be made unless the product is licensed by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate.
- Claims that a product has health benefits (for example, flea, tick or external parasite repellent): These can be made in relation to unlicensed products if the advertiser holds robust medical evidence that proves the claim. More detail on the evidence requirements for health claims is found in this ASA article from February.
- Comparing animal products: As always, it is necessary to hold evidence to support each specific product comparison. In particular, the comparison must be objective and relate to a feature of the products that is material, relevant, verifiable and representative, and consumers must be provided with enough information to understand the comparison made. For example, a 2018 ruling found that comparing a product’s findings to data on competitors’ websites was not sufficient and in that scenario, the ASA expected evidence of clinical trials and literature to support the claims made.
Featuring animals in advertising
In the second news item, the ASA has provided some advice on the key issues to be aware of when featuring animals in ads, including:
- Choose images carefully: Advertisers should ensure that ads do not contain any images that may cause serious or widespread offence or undue fear or distress. Therefore, when advertisers feature images of animals that may be upsetting, they should carefully consider whether this is justified in the context of what is being advertised, as well as whether it is suitable for the audience and the media used. For example, what might be acceptable in an email to subscribers of a particular charity, might not be equally acceptable in untargeted media. Advertisers should also take care when depicting animals in unusual environments and ensure that there is no suggestion that the animal may have been harmed.
- Seek professional care: The ASA recommends seeking support from experts when featuring animals in an ad to ensure that the animals are properly looked after during the production process.
- Avoid copycats: The ASA expects marketers to consider the risk of viewers emulating scenarios depicted in advertising. The scenario should be obviously fictitious and contain no implication that the animal has been, or will be, harmed. This applies to, for example, depictions of animals eating something that could harm them.
- Animal testing: Advertisers must ensure that they are able to substantiate any claims made in an ad and take care to not make claims that go beyond the evidence they hold. In the context of animal testing, this means that advertisers can only make claims to not use animal testing if they do not use animal testing nor use suppliers that are engaged in animal testing.
The guidance also flags that animal welfare risks can be managed by following BVA guidance on the responsible use of pet animals in advertising and by taking advice from veterinarians or other professionals (as in this 2013 adjudication).
Why this matters:
The ASA’s updates on animals comes at a time where health is at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Therefore, it is essential that any health claims made, extending to those relating to our pets and other animals, are handled carefully and in a manner that does not mislead consumers. In addition, advertisers should have the welfare of animals at the forefront of their minds when producing advertising.