Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Vegan Friendly UK
Where: United Kingdom
When: 8 June 2022
Law stated as at: 7 July 2022
Vegan Friendly UK, a non-profit organisation that certifies restaurants for their vegan options, recently released an advert that received 63 complaints and, ultimately, received a ban from the ASA.
The advert contained the juxtaposition of a scene involving three people eating interposed with images reflecting violence towards animals; scenes of fish gasping for air, a piglet with its eyes closed and a cow crying followed by an image of a cow with its head skinned.
The TV advertising body Clearcast gave the advert a restriction that prevented it from being transmitted in or adjacent to programmes directed at or likely to appeal to children under 16.
The ASA upheld the complaints that the adverts, showing graphic and gratuitous violence towards animals, caused unnecessary distress to viewers and that the advert was scheduled inappropriately.
In particular, the ASA noted the graphic nature of the images or clips such as the skinned cow’s head at the end, which would cause distress “to both younger and adult audiences”; as such, they were not suitable for broadcast, “regardless of scheduling restrictions”.
It also placed emphasis on the way the advert was shot. Quick successions of clips and a close juxtaposition of people eating and the graphic imagery involving animals were deemed to have heightened the potential for viewer distress. Particular shots, where the focus was on the suffering of animals or where splash of blood jumping into frame in a kitchen scene “contributed to the visceral nature of the ad”.
Clearcast and Vegan Friendly felt that the light that the animals had been depicted in was not too dissimilar to what would be seen in a cookery or farming programme. While the ASA acknowledged this, it was felt that some of the more distressing clips would not normally appear on television in the same context: viewers have a choice to watch such programmes but do not necessarily have the same choice which adverts that they watch.
The ASA did not uphold the complaint that the advert vilified meat eaters as they found the main purpose was to highlight how people’s actions might not line up with their beliefs and to promote more awareness of the consequences of the food people eat. While it may have been distasteful to some meat eaters, it was unlikely to cause widespread offence.
Why this matters:
This ruling demonstrates the ASA’s pursuit to strike a balance between allowing advertising campaigns that raise awareness and ensuring that unnecessary distress to both young and adult viewers is avoided.
Advertisers and broadcasters should be wary that, even if there are agreed scheduling restrictions in place to prevent viewership from those under 16, this may not be sufficient if the images are too distressing. Very graphic imagery, such as illusions to blood-splatter are very likely to breach the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising and advertisers should be conscious that their choice of imagery could be too visceral.