Ad standards board dismisses complaint about dead horse billboard

Ad standards board dismisses complaint about dead horse billboard

The Advertising Standards Board has dismissed a complaint about an anti-horse racing billboard.

The 22-metre billboard was erected ahead of Melbourne’s spring racing season but was removed after public outcry last month.

The billboard was commissioned by the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses and featured an image of a dead horse and the words: “Is the party really worth it?”

It appeared above a Melbourne freeway close to the Flemington Racetrack and sparked heated debate before being removed by the landowner after a number of complaints.

Complaints to the Advertising Standards Board included one from a horse owner who said their horses were treated with great respect and care. 

“The enormous photo of a clearly dead horse is inappropriate for public display.

The inference that horse racing kills its equine athletes is misleading and very disappointing. The imagery is also graphic and disturbed my five-year-old son.”

However, the Advertising Standards Board has found nothing wrong with the advertisement itself.

In a determination published this week the board considered the image of the horse shows it lying down but it is not clear whether the horse is dead or alive.

“The board considered that the image itself is not graphic and that the advertisement does not present or portray actual violence,” it found. 

Dean Wilkie, a lecturer in the School of Marketing at the University of New South Wales, told SmartCompany the death of two horses in this week’s Melbourne Cup has probably helped the message the billboard was conveying even if it was pulled down.

“The message has been reinforced because of what happened on Tuesday,” Wilkie says.

“The ad is saying ‘Is the party worth it?’ and it is talking to a particular target market going to the Melbourne Cup for a social event. Certain aspects of the community have responded and said the treatment of horses at the races is not right but whether that is the same target market is another question.”

Wilkie says the Advertising Standards Board has to carefully balance concerns it is a “toothless tiger” with criticism that Australia is a nanny state.

“There is always going to be parts of the community which finds the ads offensive,” he says. 

But Wilkie says the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses may be facing an uphill battle attempting to change perceptions through a billboard.

“Advertising is more effective as a means of reinforcing existing beliefs rather than changing beliefs,” he says.

Wilkie says when McDonald’s advertises a new burger those that love McDonald’s say “great” and for those that hate McDonald’s, “it won’t change their mind”.

“To change people’s attitudes and behaviours towards horse racing takes a lot more time and a lot more telling this story in a different way,” he says.


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