Who: Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”), Farmed Animal Sanctuary t/a Go Vegan World (Go Vegan World), Both Lives Matter
When: 26 July 2017 (ASA ruling on Go Vegan World) and 2 August 2017 (Both Lives Matter)
Law stated as at: 23 August 2017isi
In July and August 2017, the ASA held that two ads aimed at shocking the general public (one pro-vegan and one anti-abortion) both complied with the terms of the CAP Code and were not misleading and unsubstantiated. These ruling attracted public attention due to both the controversial messages within the ads and forceful manner in which these messages were presented.
The Go Vegan World ad featured a photo of a cow behind barbed wire and the headline text stated, “Humane milk is a myth. Don’t buy it.” The smaller text stated, “I went vegan the day I visited a dairy. The mothers, still bloody from birth, searched and called frantically for their babies. Their daughters, fresh from their mothers’ wombs but separated from them, trembled and cried piteously, drinking milk from rubber teats on the wall instead of their mothers’ nurturing bodies …”
The ASA received complaints from those who work within the dairy industry stating that the ad was not accurate and that claims such as “humane milk is a myth”, “the mothers’, still bloody from birth” and “their daughters, fresh from their mothers’ womb but separated from them” were misleading and unsubstantiated.
The ASA found in favour of Go Vegan World and held that the ad was not misleading. The ASA understood that the various claims implied that a significant number of dairy farms in the UK do not comply with animal welfare standards and that that milk production was therefore “inhumane”. However, it also considered that readers were unlikely to take the claims literally. For example, the claim that calves were taken “fresh from their mothers’ womb” would be taken to mean that they were separated very soon after being born and did not imply that they were literally taken from their mothers’ immediately following their birth. The ASA noted that Defra recommend that calves should be kept with their mothers for 12 to 24 hours after birth. Although the language was “emotional and hard-hitting”, the ASA held that it is true that calves are separated from their mothers’ soon after birth and therefore the claims were unlikely to “materially mislead readers”.
In contrast, the Both Lives Matter poster in Northern Ireland contained the claim “100,000 PEOPLE ARE ALIVE TODAY BECAUSE OF OUR LAWS ON ABORTION. Why change that?” The ASA again received complaints that the claim was misleading and unsubstantiated.
Again the ASA did not uphold this ruling. It held that the claim was based on reasonable evidence from abortion figures from England, Wales and Scotland that around 100,000 people were alive in Northern Ireland today who would otherwise have been aborted, had it been legal to do so. In addition the ASA held that readers would have understood that the figure in the poster was an estimate, especially as the figure of 100,000 was a round number which is generally associated with estimates. Therefore it held that the figure was unlikely to “materially mislead readers”.
Why this matters:
The fact that the ASA has upheld two such controversial advertising campaigns has attracted much public attention as these campaigns both featured emotional language and hard-hitting imagery. However, the ASA appears to have taken into account the fact that the claims within the ads were made by campaign groups and that the public would be aware of the marketers underlying motives. Ultimately the ASA held that there was sufficient evidence to support these claims and that the public would understand that the claims were heightened in order to attract their attention to the poster and underlying campaign.