Santa Alzheimer’s ad cleared despite parental backlash

santa-2Alzheimer’s Research UK has escaped censure for a Christmas TV ad which showed that Santa had stopped delivering presents because he had developed the disease, despite 36 complaints – mainly from parents – that it was offensive and too upsetting for their little darlings.
The ad, devised by Aardman Animations and narrated by Stephen Fry, was broadcast in the run-up to the festive period and depicted an animated story of a young girl being told that Santa had got dementia. She then travelled to see the elves, who explained that research could find a way to fix him. A voice-over at the end of the ad stated Alzheimer’s disease can affect anyone. Only research has the power to change the future.”
Although the ad was given the green light by Clearcast, it had an “ex-kids” timing restriction, meaning it should not be transmitted in or adjacent to programmes commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal to children under 16 years of age.
Consequently It was broadcast after 7:30pm, apart from on one occasion when it went out at 7:13pm in the ad break of Emmerdale, ahtough the storyline at the time was about coping with dementia anyway.
However, complainants to the Advertising Standards Authority challenged whether the ad, particularly the depiction of Santa as suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, was offensive, could cause distress to children and whether it was suitable to be broadcast at times when children could see it.
Complainants did not detail why their kids were still up and watching TV at that time of night.
In response to a ASA investigation, the charity said the ad was the result of research, public consultation and work with families affected by dementia. The aim was to produce a creative that was sensitive to the lives of people affected by dementia, but ensured those unaffected by the condition could understand its nature and impact and recognise the need for research.
It considered it had portrayed the impact of dementia on Santa sensitively and accurately, and claimed it had received tens of thousands of positive responses, shares and supporting comment via social media and significantly less than 1% expressed doubts around the approach.
Rejecting the complaints, the ASA conceded that the ad was emotive and concerned a subject matter which some viewers might find upsetting, particularly those who had family members with the illness. It also acknowledged that the character of Santa was likely to appeal to children and considered that the depiction of Santa as suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and no longer being able to deliver presents, had the potential to cause discomfort to some younger children.
However, it ruled that the topic had been handled sensitively and that the story was told in a gentle, non-graphic way with a generally positive ending.
The ASA added: “We considered that the emotional nature of the appeal was proportional to the content of the ad and the seriousness of the issue being discussed. We therefore concluded that the ad had not been scheduled inappropriately, was not irresponsible and was unlikely to cause distress to those who viewed it.”

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