A TV ad, for Wm Morrison Supermarkets, featured a family at a festively decorated dining table. A young boy was given a plate of Christmas pudding, looked at it disdainfully, and passed it down the table to a younger boy. The boy gave the pudding to a dog that was sat beside him. The dog took the pudding, whimpered, and dropped the pudding in a plant pot. The plant sighed and wilted. A voice-over stated, "Not everyone loves traditional Christmas pud. So Morrisons have a cherry chocolate gateau, an exclusive white Christmas pudding and a sparkly snow-capped baked Alaska."
The ASA received 234 complaints, including a number from vets, veterinary nurses and others who worked with dogs.
The complainants challenged whether the ad was irresponsible and harmful, because it implied it was acceptable to feed Christmas pudding to dogs, and some complainants also were concerned the ad could encourage children to feed Christmas pudding to dogs. The complainants understood that Christmas pudding contained ingredients which were potentially lethal to dogs.
Wm Morrison Supermarkets (Morrisons) said the ad was intended to light-heartedly reflect the fact that not everyone liked Christmas pudding. The dog was shown clearly rejecting the pudding and disposing of it in a plant pot in a dismissive manner. They felt the ad conveyed the message that dogs did not like Christmas pudding and would not wish to eat that type of food. They said they would never condone or encourage anyone to feed Christmas pudding (or any other non-standard canine diet food) to dogs.
Morrisons acknowledged that advice from the Veterinary Poisons Information Centre suggested that "a handful" of grapes, raisins or sultanas could cause some dogs to suffer kidney failure. However, they had received written advice from a vet, who was a former president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, that there would be minimal, if any, risk to a dog of serious toxic reaction if it were fed a small amount of Christmas pudding in relation to its bodyweight on a one-off basis. They provided a copy of that advice.
The vet, who was also present during filming of the ad, advised that cases of toxicity apparently caused by ingestion of raisins or grapes had been reported in the past 10 to 15 years, but that the condition did not affect all dogs, was not conclusively related to the ingestion of grapes or raisins, had not been reproduced experimentally, and the toxic mechanism was not fully understood. Reported cases did not reference cooked fruit and the implication was therefore that cases had only arisen in respect of raw fruit. It was likely that where toxicity had arisen it was because dogs had accidentally gained access to large quantities of raw fruit.
The vet advised that the dog in the ad would have to eat 1 to 2.5 lb (c. 0.5 to 1kg) of raw raisins or grapes for the risk of toxicity to be a concern. Morrisons calculated that, even in a worse-case scenario, the dog in the ad would have to have consumed more than one of their largest Christmas puddings with the highest concentration of fruit in order for toxicity to be a risk.
Clearcast said that when animals were used in ads they requested an assurance from a qualified person to attest to the well-being of the animals on set; in this instance they requested an assurance that it was safe for the dog to be offered Christmas pudding, carry it to the plant and deposit it there. They also highlighted the written advice given by the veterinary surgeon.
Clearcast said the dog's rejection of the pudding showed the circumstance of a dog being fed Christmas pudding in an unfavourable light; that was reinforced by the voice-over stating, "Not everyone loves traditional Christmas pud". They considered the message of the ad was that dogs did not like Christmas pudding, and for that matter nor did plants. The ad did not condone feeding Christmas pudding to dogs and did not present it as a reward or treat for the dog. They had approved the ad because of the expert opinion of a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the lack of conclusive evidence available for cooked fruit in relation to toxicity to dogs, the rejection of the pudding by the dog, and the uniqueness of the festive situation depicted in the ad.
The ASA agreed that the ad depicted the circumstance of a dog being fed Christmas pudding in an unfavourable light: the boy passed the pudding to the dog in a surreptitious manner, and the dog then did not eat the slice of Christmas pudding. The voice-over also emphasised that "Not everyone loves traditional Christmas pud". We considered it was clear that, in feeding the dog, the boy was doing something he was not supposed to, and it was also clear that the dog had rejected the pudding. We considered it unlikely that viewers, including children, would interpret it to mean that dogs liked Christmas pudding or that it was appropriate to feed Christmas pudding to dogs. Furthermore, we understood that, because the ad was for foods which were high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS foods), it had been given an 'ex-kids' restriction, which meant that it would not be broadcast in or around children's programmes, and therefore the number of children who saw the ad would have been limited.
Whilst we noted the complainants' concerns that dog owners might not be aware of the possible toxicity of grapes and raisins (and other foods) to dogs, we considered that dog owners would be aware that they should not feed their dogs foods which did not form part of a standard canine diet, and that it was the responsibility of parents to educate their children that they should not feed unsuitable food to dogs.
We concluded the ad was not irresponsible and did not condone or encourage viewers to feed Christmas pudding to dogs.
We investigated under BCAP Code rules 1.2 1.2 Advertisements must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to the audience and to society. (Responsible advertising) and 4.4 4.4 Advertisements must not include material that is likely to condone or encourage behaviour that prejudices health or safety. (Harm and offence), but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.