Posted on July 27, 2015: Is it an effective marketing strategy to show animals as dumb or vicious beings in advertisements, while claiming your product or service to be effective ‘against’ fighting their ‘menace’?
In the day of dedicated pet parents and animal lovers, how many people find the idea of insensitivity to animals as appealing or spurring the impulse to spend?
Does it make sense to capitalise on people’s misunderstanding about animals to make a quick buck?
Why am I asking all these questions? Because Fortis Hospital very recently released a newspaper ad featuring a human person being ‘bitten and bruised’ by a dog. A very misleading ad which gives the impression that dogs are dangerous animals that will bite, with no provocation. It makes the case that being ‘bitten and bruised’ by a dog is a common occurrence and Fortis will provide you with a service to deal with this. Why is a large chain of hospitals such as Fortis making a case for the misunderstanding that dogs will bite, regardless of their disposition or situation? I think it is irresponsible advertising and it is exactly this kind of representation that needs to be nipped in the bud if we want to reduce instances of animal cruelty - something which, more often than not, is driven by lack of basic education about animals and understanding of their behaviour. Ads like these foment fear, especially among young, impressionable minds. They lead to unfortunate incidents not only with strays, where they are beaten and pelted with stones (without any provocation, I might add), but also with pets, where grossly uniformed yet educated folks insist on dogs being tied up or kept in restricted areas simply out of fear! A responsible health organisation, which is supposed to educate people on healthy living, issuing such an ad is simply not done and we hope that Fortis through this editorial gets the message and withdraw this ad.
Law and regulation
Back in August 2010, the self-regulating body for advertisements in India, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), came up with guidelines regarding the depiction of animals in advertisements. The move came after an offending television commercial of Volkswagen Polo featured a car speeding through a herd of buffaloes and rhinoceros.
“Advertisements have a significant influence on peoples’ behaviour. We request you to incorporate our recommendations, so as to ensure that advertisers do not depict violence against living beings and help us save them from being subjected to abuse, pain and suffering,” DNA India reported Maj Gen (Retd) Dr RM Kharb, chairman, AWBI, as writing in his letter to ASCI, at the time.
And it turns out that Fortis isn’t alone in depicting dogs as a ‘menace’. In a complaint filed in June 2013 with the ASCI, the complainant brought to the notice of the Consumer Complaints Council, an ad, for Bennet & Coleman’s ‘I Lead India’ campaign, depicting “a dishevelled aboriginal face with the alarming words: “Dude, these Stray Dogs are a Menace.” While the double-barrelled headline peters off into other innocuous verbiage, the intention and import of the headline is clear: There are those who will deal with the ‘menace’ of stray dogs, while others will go to watch the matinee show. It is a call to action for 'sorting' the mess. All under the aegis of the 'Youth Brigade' which appears to be aggressive parallel armies of misguided vigilante groups comprising callow young men under a rabble rousing garb: “I Lead India Youth Brigades seek to mobilize youth at the grass-roots level to make them agents of change. The Ad is to encourage unbridled, illegal, criminal vigilantism which seeks to persecute innocent, defenseless and harmless stray dogs of India. It is in direct conflict with the Constitution of India. Also, it is in violation of its laws from the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.”
The complaint was upheld by the Consumer Complaints Council of the ASCI which concluded that, “the Ad – headline, “These stray dogs are a menace”, read in conjunction with the statements like “You rave about them. You rant about them….. and remember if it makes your blood boil….. gives an impression that stray dogs are a real menace to society.” This is likely to cause grave and widespread offence. The advertisement contravened Chapter II of the Code.” The ad was pulled off the air and Bennet and Coleman was issued a notice as a warning.
So, my understanding that dogs are not meant to be portrayed as a ‘menace’ or mindless biting machines, is not entirely unfounded. And I’m not alone in thinking this way.
Ire of the Animal Lover
These advertisements are not alone in drawing the ire of the animal lovers. Previously, the web-o-sphere was appalled by a Ford ad showing the car decapitating and killing a cat with its sunroof. Image the kind of sadistic fodder this ad will give to people pre-disposed to animal cruelty!
Ads featuring animal cruelty are one of the most commonly complained against ads, after ads showing sexual content and misleading or false advertising.
Will regulatory action spur a more sensitive and intelligent breed of ad makers? We certainly hope so.