ASA Adjudication on People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Foundation
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Foundation t/a
PO Box 36668
16 December 2009
Number of complaints:
A poster, for the campaign group PETA, featured a picture of a man's naked torso; the man appeared to have breasts. Text stated "Dude Looks Like a Lady? Lose the Breasts. Go Vegetarian."
1. Two complainants objected that the ad was misleading, because it implied that the appearance of breasts in men was solely down to a poor diet and obesity. They believed that the man featured had gynaecomastia (a condition in which breast tissue is formed in men), which was caused by a hormonal imbalance that could not be resolved by dieting or becoming vegetarian.
2. Two complainants objected that the ad was offensive and insensitive to sufferers of gynaecomastia.
CAP Code (Edition 11)
1. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said the man in the ad was obese and was not someone known to have been suffering from gynaecomastia due to a hormonal imbalance. They said the ad's purpose was to warn men that a diet rich in meat, eggs and dairy products could cause obesity and unwanted breast development, pseudo-gynaecomastia or lipomastia in men. PETA pointed out that there was no other pathological or physiological cause for pseudo-gynaecomastia other than fat deposits from being overweight or obese.
PETA said the ad was placed in Scotland where obesity statistics published by the Scottish Public Health Observatory in September 2007 revealed that Scotland had one of the highest obesity rates among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. They believed that there was a strong connection between the high prevalence of male breasts in Scotland and Scotland's high obesity rate, which had lead to increased demand for male breast reduction surgery.
PETA pointed out that the tagline "Go Vegetarian" made clear that the condition depicted could be addressed through improved diet. They believed that it was a matter of commonsense that an obese man suffering from the growth of male breasts because of poor diet would benefit from losing weight through adopting a healthy vegetarian or vegan diet. They pointed to several scientific studies and articles on the issue of obesity, male breast tissue growth and the benefits of a vegetarian diet.
PETA felt it was important to point out that they believed the public was aware of the limitations of advertising space and would not expect a full list of every possible cause and every possible solution to a problem such as the issue they highlighted
2. PETA said the ad depicted a genuine issue of unwanted male breasts because of poor diet, and with its tagline, "Dude Looks Like a Lady?", they believed it raised the genuine concern of some men that such breasts may appear similar to a woman's breasts. They maintained that the ad also focused on a solution: an improved diet.
PETA believed many men had breast growth similar to the breast growth of the man in the ad. They believed it was commonly recognized that large male breasts appeared to look like the breasts of women. Consequently, they maintained that that, in conjunction with the focus of the ad on a solution to the problem, rendered the image unlikely in itself to be considered offensive.
1. Not upheld
The ASA noted the ad featured a pronounced instance of male breast tissue and noted PETAs comment that the individual was obese, not someone suffering from gynaecomastia. We understood that obesity was one of several different conditions that resulted in such development, including also gynaecomastia caused by a hormone imbalance. We noted the ads emphasis on improving diet and considered that readers were likely to understand the ad in the context of the negative impact that obesity could have on the male body, not as a reference to people with gynaecomastia. There was nothing in the ad that implied poor diet and obesity were the sole reason for the appearance of male breasts and we considered that readers were likely to understand that other reasons, including medical conditions, could lead to their appearance. We therefore concluded that the ad was unlikely to mislead.
On this point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code clause 7.1 (Truthfulness) but did not find it in breach.
2. Not upheld
We noted the image and the complainants concern over the links to gynaecomastia. However, we considered that readers were likely to understand the ad in the context of the negative impact that poor diet and obesity could have on the male body, not as a reference to people with gynaecomastia. Although we acknowledged that the image might be seen as distasteful to those suffering from gynaecomastia, we concluded that the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.
On this point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code clauses 5.1 and 5.2 (Decency) but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.
Adjudication of the ASA Council (Non-broadcast)