Australia’s advertising watchdog has already received a number of complaints about an ad from Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) that was released just yesterday, and which features religious figures and deities sitting around a table and tucking into some lamb.
The advertisement, produced by creative agency The Monkeys, continues a long line of controversial ads from MLA intended to promote lamb consumption among Australians, with the organisation’s infamous “Operation Boomerang” ad being one of the most complained about Australian ads of all time.
The two-minute long video features a range of religious figures and prophets, including Zeus, Jesus, Odin, Moses, Aphrodite, Ganesha, Confucius, and Buddha.
L. Ron Hubbard, founder of controversial school of thought Scientology is also included around the table, as well as an alien.
Banter is tossed back and forth between the figures, with Aphrodite receiving numerous online dating matches, prophet Muhammad being unable to show up due to a “daycare pickup”, and Jesus performing a “reverse miracle” by turning wine into water for the designated driver.
“Our marketing aims to reach more consumers by making Lamb more relevant to a diverse, modern Australia. This time around we are highlighting the diversity of religious beliefs, backgrounds and dietary requirements in modern Australia,” MLA group marketing manager Andrew Howie said in a statement.
The one non-religious person at the table is a typical Australian woman, who when asked, says she follows no religion, representing the largest growing “religion” in Australia. Ganesha responds to this saying, “we really need a better marketing team”.
At the end of the ad, all the attendees propose a toast to lamb, with the Australian woman saying it is “the meat we can all eat”.
However, the advertisement has drawn the ire of followers of Hinduism due to its depiction of the god Ganesha, with Rajan Zed, president of Universal Society of Hinduism, claiming the advertisement “made fun” of the god.
“[Ganesha] was meant to be worshipped in temples or home shrines and not to be used in selling lamb meat for mercantile greed. Moreover, linking Lord Ganesha with meat was very disrespectful and highly inappropriate,” Zed said in a statement.
Followers of Hinduism are often vegetarian due to the religion’s underlying values promoting respect for all life, both plant and animal. Zed called upon MLA to issue an apology or withdraw the ad immediately.
Shiva Kuma, LinkedIn’s head of brand and communications in Australia and New Zealand, echoed these sentiments in a post on LinkedIn, claiming the advertisement went “a bit too far”.
“The intended idea behind this campaign seems to be to create more unity among people of diverse faiths and also for those who don’t believe in religion to enjoy a good conversation and food. However, it fails to respect the sensitivity associated with diverse cultures and the reason why some religions don’t eat certain food and in this case specifically ‘lamb’,” Kuma wrote.
“I am Indian by birth, I am vegetarian and I also am Hindu. Ganesha is a god that I believe in and one of the most worshipped deities in the Hindu religion. Any Indian function doesn’t start without praying for Ganesha who is the remover of obstacles. Ganesha, the Elephant god, is also vegetarian.”
Despite the ad only being released yesterday, SmartCompany understands the Advertising Standards Bureau has already received numerous complaints regarding the advertisement.
On behalf of MLA and The Monkeys, Howie said the ad featured various deities “in a clearly fantastic nature, with the intent of being as inclusive as possible. To achieve this we undertook extensive research and consultation”.
“Our intent is not to offend, but by acknowledging that Lamb is a meat consumed by a wide variety of cultures, capture how such a gathering might look if one left their differing views at the door and came to the table with open arms, and minds,” Howie said in a statement.
“Lamb is the meat that brings people together. Our “You Never Lamb Alone” campaigns have promoted the value of unity and inclusivity. This latest campaign instalment is no different.”
Advertising with religion needs to be “very careful”
Speaking to SmartCompany, advertising expert and University of Melbourne academic Lauren Rosewarne says advertisers will often push boundaries when it comes to religion “so we will talk about them”.
“An ad that not only is based on religion but equates major faith leaders like Christ with Scientology’s L. Ron Hubbard is likely always going to seem a little risqué,” Rosewarne says.
She says businesses should take care in exactly how their use of religion in advertising might be interpreted.
“We’re at a time of heightened cultural sensitivity around such issues so while I think there is still room for religious humour in advertising such comedy needs to be very careful not to appear to mock or malign any particular faith.
“Unfortunately there is a bit of a knee-jerk, call-out culture that will be ready to complain about any representation of religion before questioning whether it is actually offensive to anyone.”