‘Gory’ vegan ad ban shows just what kids are exposed to

viva 2Vegan charity Viva’s attempt to convert consumers to its cause by claiming yoghurts contained “the stolen milk of grieving mothers, blended with brutality” has not only been slammed and banned by the ad watchdog; it has also exposed just how easy it is for children to see “gory, unjustified and offensive” ads online.

The move follows the launch of a film in May this year, which ran as a pre-roll ad on Facebook Watch, as well as on Instagram, while also appearing on the Duolingo app and the Poki Games app.

It featured a video of a woman opening a corner-style yoghurt, while 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 then 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.”

However, perhaps unsurprisingly, not everyone was that “excited to tuck in”, although only a relatively low seven complainants rifled off their concerns to the Advertising Standards Authority. They challenged whether the ad was likely to cause unnecessary distress and serious and widespread offence; and whether it had been responsibly targeted, because children had seen it.

In response to the ASA investigation, Viva insisted the ad was a “theatrically staged parody” and that viewers would understand the blood in the yoghurt pot was not real. It had wanted to expose aspects of dairy farming that consumers did not see and was simply using parody to highlight the hypocrisy of companies which claimed their farms had high welfare standards.

Viva added that the film was targeted at adults who would all be aware that meat, dairy, offal and blood were part of the everyday UK diet. It claimed that viewers were increasingly numbed to shock factors like death and violence on TV, and gave the example of TV programmes that included tasks involving real blood and participants eating animal parts. It believed the ad was mild in comparison.

Because of that context, the ad was “clearly a parody”, Viva believed, insisting it would not offend an adult audience.

The charity also rejected complaints that the ad was likely to be seen by children, maintaining it had paid for advertising on Meta platforms and on YouTube. It had targeted over 18s and had chosen particular audience demographics – meat eaters, vegans, dairy and vegetarian eaters and animal lovers. It said that Meta and YouTube did not allow advertisers to target people aged under 18.

Viva added that Meta-owned platforms Facebook and Instagram had considered the ad to be acceptable under their policies. The charity sent an email to the watchdog from Meta confirming that it had been approved.

Viva went on to claim it had not been aware that ads on YouTube, served via the Google display network. could also appear on other sites and apps. It 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.

The charity emphasised that it would have expected ads targeted at an adult audience to have been pushed only to apps with an 18+ restriction. It said it would ensure, if it placed this ad again, that it was not shown anywhere but YouTube.

This placement issue has exposed just how difficult it is to prevent grim advertising imagery from being seen by children. For instance, Duolingo said that the ad had been placed by Google Admob and that it did not control the ads that appeared. It said it had now blocked the advertiser.

Meanwhile, Poki Games said it was a 16+ platform and its terms of use stated that, by using the website, users attested that they were at least 16 years old. It had automated systems to ensure that unwanted and inappropriate ads were blocked.

It understood from Google that the ad had been inaccurately labelled as ‘’Food & Drink/Cooking & Recipes/Cuisines/Vegetarian Cuisine’’ when it was in fact a campaign ad, making a polemical point and said it would not have approved the ad.

Facebook did not even comment on the issue.

Finally, Google said it was the advertiser’s responsibility to abide by applicable law and regulations, including the CAP Code and it offered tools to help advertisers target or exclude the type of content that its ads appear near, as well as the type of audiences that see their ads. It confirmed the ad was in breach of its policies, and had taken steps to prevent it from be served again.

The ASA, however, was more emphatic. While acknowledging the ad was intended to be a parody, it considered the graphic and gory imagery was likely to shock and cause a sense of disgust.

It also 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, with the voiceover likely to be seen as frightening and distressing to children in particular.

The watchdog added that Viva’s attempts to prevent children from seeing the ad were insufficient.

Banning the ad on the grounds that it was likely to cause serious and widespread offence, and unjustified distress to adults – let alone to children – the watchdog warned Viva to ensure future ads were prepared responsibly, were appropriately targeted and did not contain graphic scenes or language.

Even so, at the time of publication, the ad is still running on Viva’s YouTube channel>

Related stories
Govt plans new laws to stamp out harmful online ads
Big tech bashing laws finally heading for Parliament
Ministers come out fighting with big tech clampdown
ICO and CMA pledge to join forces for the greater good
‘Funny’ Valentine’s ad gets tongue-lashing from ASA
Gorillas booze, sex and drugs jokes spark ASA red mist
99 problems: Foul-mouthed Sickotoy ad scratched out

Print Friendly