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By John McCarthy | Media editor

June 7, 2022 | 4 min read

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned a visceral ad from Vegan Friendly UK urging people to stop eating meat.

Three issues were investigated, of which two were upheld and one was not.

The TVC, seen in March 2022, showed two women and one man eating at a table. They discussed injustices in the world while consuming meat products. Gruesome imagery of sad animals interjected ketchup splatters, which distressed some viewers.

The ad was cleared by Clearcast with a restriction preventing it from being transmitted in or adjacent to programs appealing to children under 16. It inspired 63 complaints, each carrying at least one of the following themes:

  1. The ad contained graphic imagery and gratuitous violence toward animals, which caused unnecessary distress to viewers

  2. The ad was inappropriately scheduled because it was broadcast when children could be watching

  3. The ad was offensive because it vilified meat-eaters

The first two themes were upheld, while the third was not.

Vegan Friendly UK said it used carefully-selected stock imagery that wouldn’t be out of place in a cooking program or a nature documentary. The defense was that the clips did not portray actions of violence or harm, and that such imagery was seen regularly in butchers’ or fishmongers’ windows on the average UK high street.

It added that the generally-accepted moral standard in the UK was to respect and care for animals, but those who ate meat deviated from that moral standard. It wanted to encourage meat-eaters who were against animal cruelty to reconsider their actions.

Its defense that it didn’t vilify meat-eaters stood.

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. It also claimed that the ad was not targeted to or scheduled around children’s programs, nor around food programs or wildlife documentaries.

Clearcast meanwhile didn’t consider the imagery in the ad to be overly graphic. It said that although blood could be seen in the ad, it considered this style of imagery was similar to what could be expected to be seen in markets, butchers and fishmongers. It didn’t show mistreatment or violence.

All that said, the BCAP Code, which the ASA enforces, states that ads must not distress the audience without justifiable reason.

The ASA noted that some of the imagery used in the ad was graphic in nature due to its context and usage in the creative and could likely cause distress, including footage of a cow ‘crying’ and a fish ‘struggling to breathe.’

“The way in which the ad was shot had an impact upon the distress likely to have been felt by the audience,” read the ruling.

“We also considered that the camera angle was used to focus on the distress of the animals ... 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.”

With the complaints and additional context, it added: “We considered that several of the clips shown, such as the clips that depicted animals in distress or the skinned cow’s head, would likely not be seen in ... a butcher or watching a cookery program. [That] was an active choice that came with different expectations to those of TV ads.”

For those reasons, the ASA 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.

On those points, the ad breached BCAP Code rules 1.2 (Social Responsibility), 4.1 and 4.10 (Harm and Offence), and 32.1 and 32.3 (Scheduling).

The ad must not appear again in the complained-of form.

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