A TV ad for Vegan Friendly UK, a campaign group, seen in March 2022, showed two women and one man sat around a table eating.
The first woman said, [A]nd plastic straws are ruining the oceans. Poor fish don't stand a chance. A
close-up of the woman's mouth whilst eating fish was shown, followed by three clips of fish in quick succession, before showing the woman's mouth again. The first clip showed a large number of live fish out of water on a conveyor belt, the second clip
showed a close-up of a fish head which was still gasping for air, and the final clip showed headless fish being filleted on a chopping board that had streaks of blood and fish guts on it.
The man then said, There's countries that
still have bullfighting, to which the first woman replied, And wet markets. A close-up of his meal was then shown, followed by a close-up of him eating it. The man replied, They just don't care about animals like we do babe, followed by three clips in
quick succession. The first clip showed a live piglet, alongside a pig with its eyes closed. The second clip then showed pork meat being chopped with a cleaver, followed by blood splashing onto a takeaway box.
The second woman
then said, Let's not even mention human rights issues. A close-up of the man eating with his mouth open was shown, and quickly followed by a close-up of a burger, with thick red sauce spilling out. The first woman replied, Can we all just treat living
beings the same please, to which the second woman said That's real equality. A close-up of the woman eating the burger was shown, followed by a clip of a cow's face which appeared to have tears coming from its red eye, alongside a moo-ing sound.
Close-ups of all three adults eating loudly with their mouths open were shown in quick succession, and the second woman had red sauce smeared on her face. Interchanging clips of animals followed by the humans' eyes were then shown.
The first animal clip showed a piglet's eyes, alongside a squealing noise. The second animal clip was a fish out of water with its gills moving. The third animal clip showed the eye of a pig, accompanied by squealing, and the fourth showed the eye of a
chicken, accompanied by squawking. The face of a live cow was then shown, which was then quickly followed by a cow's skinned head, with its eyes and teeth still present, lying on its side. As they continued to eat, text stated no animal was harmed,
consumed, or purchased to make this advert, followed by the text MAKE THE CONNECTION.
The ASA received 63 complaints:
1. Some complainants challenged whether the ad contained graphic imagery and gratuitous
violence towards animals, which caused unnecessary distress to viewers;
2. Some complainants also challenged whether the ad was scheduled appropriately, because it was broadcast when children could be watching; and
3. Some complainants challenged whether the ad was offensive because it vilified meat eaters.
Vegan Friendly believed that the ad did not cause distress, but said that if offence was caused by the ad, it was
justifiable because billions of animals were killed in the meat industry.
ASA Assessment: Complaints upheld
1. & 2. Upheld
The BCAP Code stated that ads must not distress
the audience without justifiable reason. The Code also stated that relevant timing restrictions must be applied to ads that might harm or distress children of particular ages, or that are otherwise unsuitable for them. We acknowledged that the ad was
given a scheduling restriction which prevented it from being transmitted in or adjacent to programmes commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal to children under 16.
The ASA noted that some of the imagery used
in the ad was graphic in nature. Whilst some of the images were not inherently graphic or violent, we considered that some of the clips shown were likely to cause distress within the context of the ad; in particular, the clip of the cow which appeared to
be crying, and the several clips that showed fish struggling to breathe. We also considered that the image of the skinned cow's head shown at the end of ad was particularly graphic and, in itself, likely to cause distress to both younger and adult
We considered the way in which the ad was shot had an impact upon the distress likely to have been felt by the audience. We noted that the quick succession of clips shown throughout the ad, and the juxtaposition between
the adults eating and the animal imagery, would heighten the distress felt by viewers. We also considered that the camera angle was used to focus on the distress of the animals shown in the ad, for example by focusing on the gills moving in the several
clips of the fish or the eye of the crying cow. In addition, we considered that the splash of blood that jumped from one clip and landed on the takeaway box in the following clip, deviated from what would be expected in normal food preparation, and as
such we considered its inclusion to be gratuitous. We therefore considered that the way that the ad had been shot and edited contributed to the visceral nature of the ad.
We noted that both Clearcast and Vegan Friendly UK
understood that the imagery shown in the ad was akin to what viewers could expect to see in cookery programmes or on the high street when walking past a butcher's shop or fishmonger's shop. We acknowledged that some clips which showed meat or fish being
prepared for consumption, such as the fish being filleted, would not be out of place out on food programmes or when purchasing meat or fish. However, we considered that several of the clips shown, such as the clips which depicted animals in distress or
the skinned cow's head, would likely not be seen in these places. In addition, visiting a butcher or watching a cookery programme was an active choice which came with different expectations to those of TV ads.
For those reasons,
we concluded that the ad was likely to cause distress to both younger and adult audiences and therefore was not suitable for broadcast on TV regardless of scheduling restrictions.
3. Not upheld
acknowledged that some viewers might believe that the adults were portrayed as hypocritical in their discussion of social and environmental issues in the ad, and might see the ad as portraying the characters in a negative light. We also acknowledged that
some may have found the close-up shots of the adults eating unpleasant. However, we considered that the shots were both exaggerated for effect and we considered viewers would generally accept that the ad was trying to highlight how people's actions might
not necessarily align with their beliefs.
We considered that the ad would be seen in the context of Vegan Friendly's wider aim to increase peoples' consumption of plant-based food by imploring them to think about the relationship
between meat and animals being killed, rather than explicitly vilifying meat eaters. We considered that was reinforced by the tagline make the connection at the end of the ad.
We also noted that the adults were not shown killing
or harming the animals, and neither was derogatory nor insulting language used towards them for choosing to eat meat.
For those reasons, we concluded that the ad was likely to be seen as distasteful by some viewers, but not likely
to cause widespread offence by vilifying meat eaters.
The ad must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Vegan Friendly UK to avoid using imagery which was likely to cause distress to both younger and adult audiences.