Nottingham City Council has been shamed by the ad watchdog over a poster campaign which used offensive, stereotypical images of homeless people – portraying them as fraudsters, alcoholics and drug addicts – in an attempt to stop residents from handing over cash to beggars.
The posters featured images of a person smoking a roll-up, a homeless man begging, and discarded lager cans and syringes.
But instead of having the desired effect, many residents took umbrage to the campaign, and complained to the Advertising Standards Authority, that the ads portrayed homeless people in a derogatory manner and implied that all homeless people were engaged in criminal and anti-social behaviour.
In response, Nottingham City Council produced a body of evidence which it believed supported its case.
First up, it insisted the posters were not about homeless people, but beggars, most of whom it claimed were not homeless at all. To reinforce this argument, the council cited a blog post by a local homelessness charity which it claimed supported the objective of the campaign.
It also referred to a report by the same charity, which found that in the 12 months up to April 2016, 181 of 189 individuals who were witnessed to have engaged in street drinking and/or begging had identified support needs for alcohol and/or substance misuse, and nine had passed away.
In addition it provided three case studies which it said were examples of the harassment and disruption those who begged could cause and demonstrated the clear link between begging and drug or alcohol abuse.
But the ASA was not convinced. In its ruling it stated that the language in the first four posters was “absolute in nature” and implied that any money given to beggars would be used in an irresponsible way. It also said the campaign showed that people who begged had dishonest intentions to deceive members of the public.
Ruling that the posters were likely to cause serious or widespread offence, the watchdog ordered that four of the five executions in the campaign must be be ripped down and never used again.
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