Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
Two paid-for social media ads for Viva!, a vegan charity, seen in May 2023.
a. A pre-roll ad on Facebook Watch featured a video of a woman opening a corner-style yoghurt, whilst upbeat music played. The lid of the yoghurt was labelled “Killer Yoghurt. Flavoured with a mother’s grief”. The voiceover stated, “New from Killer yoghurts, the umbilical cord flavour. Produced with only the finest ingredients, the stolen milk of grieving mothers. Taste the torment in every mouthful. Blended with brutality. Be complicit, with Killer yoghurts.” The woman was shown smiling and taking a spoonful of the corner part of the yoghurt, which was filled with bloody and raw offal meat. The blood was then shown dripping from her mouth and there was a close-up of a spoon mixing yoghurt with the bloody meat products. The woman was shown smiling, with blood on her teeth, lips and dripping down her chin after licking the lid of the yoghurt. An indoor dairy farming shed filled with cows was then featured.
Text above the video stated “Sponsored. Paid for by Viva! Vegan charity .... KILLER YOGHURTS Excited to tuck in? Intensive dairy farming is on the rise in the UK”.
b. An Instagram ad was the same as ad (a).
c. An ad on the Duolingo app was the same as ad (a).
d. An ad on the Poki Games app was the same as ad (a).
The complainants challenged whether the ads were:
1. likely to cause unnecessary distress and serious and widespread offence; and
2. irresponsibly targeted, because they had been seen by children.
1. Viva! said the ad was a theatrically staged parody and that viewers would understand that the blood in the yoghurt pot was not real. They had wanted to expose aspects of dairy farming that consumers did not see and were using parody to highlight the hypocrisy of companies which claimed their farms had high welfare standards.
Viva! said the ad was targeted at adults who would all be aware that meat, dairy, offal and blood were part of the everyday UK diet. They believed that viewers were increasingly numbed to shock factors like death and violence on TV. They gave the example of TV programmes that included tasks involving real blood and participants eating animal parts. They believed the ad was mild in comparison.
Because of that context and because the ad was clearly a parody, Viva! believed it would not offend an adult audience.
2. Viva! said they had paid for advertising on Meta platforms and on YouTube. They had targeted over 18-year-olds and had chosen particular audience demographics – meat eaters, vegans, dairy and vegetarian eaters and animal lovers. They said that Meta and YouTube did not allow them to target people aged under 18.
Viva! said that Facebook and Instagram reviewed all ads and considered the ad to be acceptable under their policies. They sent an email from Meta confirming that it had been approved.
Viva! said they had not been aware that ads on YouTube, served via the Google display network could also appear on other sites and apps. They said an advertiser could not select the websites or apps on which the ad would appear and did not know where the ad would or had appeared. They emphasised that they would have expected ads targeted at an adult audience to have been pushed only to apps with an 18+ restriction. They said they would ensure, if they placed this ad again, that it was not shown anywhere but YouTube.
Duolingo said that the ad had been placed by Google Admob and that they did not control the ads that appeared. They said they had now blocked the advertiser.
Facebook said they did not have any comments.Google said it was the advertiser’s responsibility to abide by applicable law and regulations, including the CAP Code and they offered tools to help advertisers target or exclude the type of content that their ads appear near, as well as the type of audiences that see their ads. They said the ad was in breach of their policies, and they had taken steps to prevent it from serving again.
The CAP Code stated that marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers, and must not cause serious or widespread offence, fear or distress without justifiable reason. The fear or distress should not be excessive and marketers must not use a shocking claim or image merely to attract attention.
The ASA acknowledged that the ad was intended to be a parody of ads for popular food products like fruit yoghurts, which were typically light-hearted and wholesome in tone. However, the ad featured blood and offal being mixed into the yoghurt in the place of fruit or jam, with close-up shots of the offal. The woman was shown eating the blood and offal whilst smiling, with blood dripping from her mouth and teeth. Although we acknowledged people would understand the ad was intended as a comment on animal welfare, we considered the graphic and gory imagery was likely to shock and cause a sense of disgust.
We considered that the juxtaposition of the woman’s happy and wholesome demeanour with graphic close-ups of blood and offal was likely to further highlight the graphic and gory imagery.
We also considered language such as “the umbilical cord flavour”, “… the stolen milk of grieving mothers. Taste the torment in every mouthful. Blended with brutality. Be complicit, with Killer yoghurts”, alongside the graphic and gory imagery, was likely to be seen as frightening and distressing to children in particular.
We acknowledged that an ad referencing animal welfare might cause distress to some people and, in light of the language and gory scenes, we considered the distress likely to be caused by this ad, particularly to children, was unjustified.
We therefore concluded that the ad was likely to cause serious or widespread offence, and unjustified distress.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 4.1 and 4.2 (Harm and offence).
The ASA understood the ad had been seen by children on Facebook Watch, Duolingo and an online educational game. As set out in point 1, we considered the ad was likely to cause serious or widespread offence and unjustified distress to adults and children.
Duolingo was a free language learning app with an age restriction of 4+. We considered that, although it was not explicitly targeted at children, it was likely to be used by children as well as adults.
Viva’s exclusions had therefore proved insufficient to prevent the ad from being seen on apps that were likely to appeal to children. We therefore concluded that the targeting exclusions had been insufficient to target the ad away from children.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 (Social responsibility), 4.1 and 4.2 (Harm and offence).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained about. We told Viva! to ensure future ads were prepared responsibly, were appropriately targeted and did not contain graphic scenes or language that were likely to cause unjustified distress to viewers.