Watchdog rules against radio ad featuring baby cow’s trip to abbatoir

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Watchdog rules against radio ad featuring baby cow's trip to abbatoir

The advertising watchdog has upheld a series of complaints about a radio commercial from Animal Liberation Queensland, which featured a baby cow talking about its trip to an abattoir.

Animal Liberation Queensland (ALQ) is a not-for-profit organisation that advocates for animal rights and the radio ad in question formed part of its “Ditch Dairy” campaign.

However, the Advertising Standards Board has ruled the ad breached the industry’s code of conduct because it would likely alarm children or cause them distress.

The ad in question featured a voice of a baby cow named Bobby, who tells a story about how he was taken from his mother at one day of age and will soon be taken to an abattoir.

During the ad, Bobby says his mother’s milk, which nature intended for him, is provided to humans instead. At the end of the ad, a voiceover directs listeners to the website ditchdairy.com.au.

The Ad Standards Board received several complaints about the ad, with several people saying the ad was broadcast during times when they were taking their young children to school.

“The ‘ditch dairy’ ad is being played heavily during school pick-up and drop-off times and is distressing to children,” said one person.

“By portraying a young cow being stolen from its mother it is frightening young children who I hope are not the target audience.”

Another complainant told the Ad Standards Board the commercial contained “sad and graphic content of the slaughter [of] baby calves and the grief of their mothers”.

“This ad is directed at children and is even spoken by a child in the attempt to get the child/mothers of children to relate to the speaker,” they said.

Three complaints also dealt with what the authors said was “bias” towards the dairy industry.

“I find the content offensive and denigrating toward dairy farmers,” said one person.

“It asserts dairy cows are commonly mistreated. It addition to causing offense, it also contravenes the dietary guidelines published by the Australian Government Department of Health and Aging when telling us to stop consuming dairy products.”

In response to the complaints, ALQ told the Ad Standards Board the ad does not contain any derogatory mention of farmers and was intended to “inform listeners that male dairy calves are the unwanted by-products of the dairy industry and are typically slaughtered at one week of age”.

ALQ said the ad also attempted to persuade listeners that the treatment of dairy claves is “a compelling and compassionate reason to ‘ditch dairy’.”

“Whilst the word ‘abattoir’ is mentioned in the ad, which suggests the typical fate of a male dairy calf, there is no presentation or portrayal of violence as such – no violence is inflicted on Bobby during the ad,” ALQ said.

“The mention of an abattoir can be justified, as without this mention, there is no compelling reason provided to ditch dairy, which is the overall purpose of the ad.”

ALQ also told the advertising watchdog the ad was intended for adult consumers, not children, and does not use language specifically designed to appeal to children.

The Ad Standards Board dismissed the complaints that accused ALQ of discriminating against farmers and depicting material that is contrary to prevailing community standards on health and safety.

However, the watchdog found the ad did breach the advertising code of conduct by presenting an “overarching impression of fear and sadness and… this amounts to a suggestion of menace that would likely alarm children and cause some level of distress regarding the outcome for the calf or child”.

“The board noted that this type of language is not complex and would easily be understood by children,” the ruling said.

“The board noted the calf is presented as a child and uses a child’s voice to deliver the message …. [and] the suggestion that a ‘baby’ would be taken from its mother would likely have an alarming effect on children escalating feelings of fear and uncertainty about why this would happen.”

ALQ informed the Ad Standards Board the radio ad in question is no longer running and the organisation has “duly noted the board’s determination in relation to this matter”.

However, Gayle D’Arcy, a spokesperson for ALQ, told SmartCompany this morning the board’s ruling was surprising.

“Hundreds of thousands of week-old male dairy calves are killed each year in Australia, so we regard this as a far more disturbing example of violence of an unacceptable nature,” D’Arcy says.

“During the two-week period the ad was broadcast, we know it generated much debate and informed a large Brisbane audience of an animal protection issue rarely discussed in mainstream media.”

“Along with some complaints, we also received praise for openly challenging the false notion that dairy cows live idyllic lives.”

D’Arcy says, however, if ALQ was to run the ad again, it would do so in a different time slot “as the board found that the ad was not likely to cause alarm to adults”. 

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Eloise Keating is the editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Eloise was news editor at Books+Publishing, the trade press for the Australian book industry.

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