Summary of Council decision:
Three issues were investigated, of which two were Upheld and one Not upheld.
A TV ad for Vegan Friendly UK, a non-profit organisation, 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 ad was given a Clearcast restriction preventing it from being transmitted in or adjacent to programmes commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal to children under 16.
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.
1., 2. & 3.Vegan Friendly UK said that they carefully selected the clips of animals used in the ad. They clarified that the clips were sourced from licensed stock footage sites or from the public domain, and believed that these clips would not feel out of place in a cooking programme or a nature documentary. They believed that the clips used in the ad 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. As such, they said that imagery seen in the ad was normalised and that was why they had been selected to feature in the ad.
Vegan Friendly explained that they had edited the clips together to contrast against what was being said by the three adults featured in the ad. They said that the ad highlighted an individual’s potential hypocrisy, and the contradictions between what people said and their actions. They said 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. They clarified that the aim of the ad was to encourage those meat eaters who were against animal cruelty to reconsider their actions. Therefore, they believed that their ad did not vilify meat eaters but promoted love and compassion for all beings and discouraged discrimination against other sentient beings.
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.
Vegan Friendly confirmed that the ad was not targeted to or scheduled around children’s programmes, nor was it scheduled around food programmes or wildlife documentaries.
Clearcast said that, when considering the ad, they referred to a similar TV ad by Vegan Friendly which was found not to be in breach of the Code. They said that when clearing this ad, that they bore that precedent in mind.
Clearcast said that they did not consider the imagery in the ad to be overly graphic and re-iterated that the clips featured in the ad were not dissimilar to what would be seen in a cookery or farming programme. Whilst they acknowledged that the quick-cut nature of clips shown in the ad may have strengthened the feel of the ad, Clearcast believed that the imagery was not overly graphic and that the strongest clip in the ad was the skinned cow’s head. They said that, although blood could be seen in the ad, the clips of fish were seen in the context of being prepared for consumption. They considered this style of imagery was similar to what could be expected to be seen in markets, butchers and fishmongers. Since these clips were interspersed with other clips showing pigs and cows that did not show mistreatment, they did not consider that gratuitous violence was shown or that the imagery was graphic enough to warrant a more stringent scheduling restriction. Considering all of that, they said that they decided that the ad should be scheduled away from programmes for, or that appealed to under-16s. They also understood that the advertiser did not place it near wildlife documentaries or food programmes.
Clearcast believed that the ad did not vilify meat eaters but invited viewers to connect the products being eaten with the animals themselves, and the wider context which might include ecological, welfare or human rights concerns. They said this was reinforced by the tagline “Make the Connection”. They exemplified this by saying an individual concerned by the effect of single use plastics on ocean life, might not have considered whether they are comfortable eating fish.
Clearcast said that they were satisfied the ad was made with a sense of social responsibility and was unlikely to cause physical, mental, moral or social harm to under-18s. They understood that some people would dislike the ad. However, they did not consider it to cause serious or widespread harm nor would it condone harmful discrimination.
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 audiences.
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.
On those points, the ad breached BCAP Code rules 1.2 1.2 Advertisements must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to the audience and to society. (Social Responsibility), 4.1 4.1 Advertisements must contain nothing that could cause physical, mental, moral or social harm to persons under the age of 18. and 4.10 4.10 Advertisements must not distress the audience without justifiable reason. Advertisements must not exploit the audience's fears or superstitions (Harm and Offence), and 32.1 32.1 Broadcasters must exercise responsible judgement on the scheduling of advertisements and operate internal systems capable of identifying and avoiding unsuitable juxtapositions between advertising material and programmes, especially those that could distress or offend viewers or listeners. and 32.3 32.3 Relevant timing restrictions must be applied to advertisements that, through their content, might harm or distress children of particular ages or that are otherwise unsuitable for them. (Scheduling).
3. Not upheld
We 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.
We investigated the ad under BCAP Code rules
Advertisements must not cause serious or widespread offence against generally accepted moral, social or cultural standards.
Particular care must be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of: age; disability; gender; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; and sexual orientation. and 4.8 4.8 Advertisements must not condone or encourage harmful discriminatory behaviour or treatment. Advertisements must not prejudice respect for human dignity. (Harm and Offence), but did not find it in breach.
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.