The British Veterinary Association (BVA) have said it’s time to address the “irresponsible depiction” of pets across all forms of advertising to tackle the normalisation of poor animal health and welfare.
According to the BVA’s Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey, eight in 10 vets in the UK (83 percent) said they were concerned about the “inappropriate representation” of animals in adverts, with insurance companies, pet food brands, supermarkets and banks topping the list of most-cited ‘bad-ad’ culprits by vets.
Some 44 percent recalled seeing adverts over the past month that featured images of pet animals unable to exhibit normal behaviour, 31 percent said they had seen pets depicted in an unsafe scenario and 24 percent claimed to have seen them shown in an “unsuitable environment”.
By far the most commonly cited adverts, seen by more than three-quarters of vets, were those that showed pets with exaggerated features or extreme conformation, such as Pugs or Persian cats. BVA’s #BreedtoBreathe campaign this year has led to brands including Marks and Spencer, HSBC and Lidl making a pledge not to use images of flat-faced dogs in ads or on social media in the future.
To help companies big and small avoid similar pet promo pitfalls and harness the power of advertising to promote positive animal health and welfare across a range of species, BVA has launched an authoritative set of pet advertising guidelines with support from members of the Veterinary Animal Welfare Coalition, comprising the British Small Animal Veterinary Association, British Veterinary Zoological Society, British Veterinary Nursing Association, Blue Cross, PDSA, RSPCA and the Scottish SPCA.
BVA’s guidelines, ‘Pets in advertising: A social concern’, identify good practice guidance as well as common mistakes in portraying pets, whether real or cartoon and computer-generated (CGI), across each of the five animal welfare needs set out in the UK Animal Welfare Acts.
These acts include the need for a suitable environment and diet; ability to exhibit normal behaviour; the need to be housed with, or apart from, other animals; and lastly, to be protected from pain, suffering, injury or disease.
Images of pets consuming potentially toxic food such as chocolate or raisins, children ‘riding’ dogs, rabbits housed in tiny hutches, teacup animals and dogs with cropped ears or docked tails are all examples that should be avoided.
BVA president, Simon Doherty, said: “Images of cute, funny and cuddly pets grab our attention and pull at our heartstrings, so it’s no surprise that advertisers use them to be the face of their brand.
“Often the welfare issues affecting the animals are not immediately obvious to an untrained eye, but we know vets and vet nurses are very concerned by issues such as the normalisation of potentially harmful or misleading behaviour and the use of popular breeds who suffer because of the way they have been bred.”
He added: “We know there’s a public appetite for responsible portrayal of pets in adverts, as witnessed by the success of our #BreedtoBreathe campaign and the high volume of complaints that the Advertising Standards Authority receives each year by viewers concerned about misleading, distressing or harmful depictions of pets in ads.
“Our guidelines also give animal lovers and pet owners across the country an easy reference to assess portrayals of pets in ads, and we would encourage them to join us in alerting brands who inadvertently use inappropriate images in their campaigns.”
BVA also has developed a template letter for concerned members of the public to flag concerns to the brands in question. The letter, as well as the pet advertising guidelines, can be viewed at: www.bva.co.uk/advertising-guidelines/