More than just an image… thinking twice about how pets are depicted in advertising

Posted on December 04, 2018 by Hayley Atkin

This month sees the launch of BVA’s Pets in advertising: A social concern, good practice guidance for use of pet animals in advertising. The document aims to provide clear guidance on the responsible use of pet animals in advertising, marketing and communications materials. We hope the guidance will be a useful decision-making tool for all those wishing to depict images of pets in a responsible and respectful manner.

Pets in advertising – a social concern

Our concerns around the inappropriate use of pets in advertising is not necessarily a concern for the health and welfare of the specific animal used in images, although we do recommend that there is a vet ‘on set’ during the production of marketing materials to ensure the animal’s five welfare needs are being met throughout.

Rather, we’re concerned about how the overall portrayal of the animals in images or videos could be perceived by the wider public and the potentially harmful knock-on effects this may have in terms of owner-emulation. For example, a dog shown with a child riding on its back for a photo company or jumping on a trampoline to celebrate Christmas.

This issue has been recognised by both the RCVS and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), who have respectively have urged vets ‘on set’ and advertisers to give thought to the way in which the advert may be perceived, in addition to the health and welfare of the specific animal in their care.

Supporting decision making

Of course, this isn’t the first time BVA has spoken out about the inappropriate use of pets in advertising.

As part of our # BreedtoBreathe campaign, we’ve been writing to major retailers and organisations who use brachycephalic breeds in their advertising asking them to consider the health problems associated with their new poster pets. This approach has resulted in some great successes, with Costa, Heinz and HSBC all pledging to avoid using brachycephalic dogs in their future advertising campaigns.

However, we recognised that whilst we were telling big brands what they shouldn’t include in their marketing and communication materials, we had yet to produce any guidance to support organisations in their decision making around how animals should be used responsibly and respectfully in their images.

What you can do about it

To mark the launch of our good practice guidance we’re setting out 2 things you can do to make sure the veterinary profession is leading the way when it comes to the responsible use of animals in communications materials.

Make sure your own house is in order – use a copy of the good practice guidance to make sure your own practice/business is using marketing and communications materials that responsibly depict animals in appropriate situations.

Let big brands know we’ve developed a resource to support their decision making - We’ll be sending out a copy of the guidance to all the big brands we’ve already engaged with, but unfortunately, it’s not possible for BVA to contact every brand directly. If you see brands using animals inappropriately, let them know that the veterinary profession is here to help with their decision making and send them the link to the guidelines or a copy of our template letter.

Pushing for change together

We’ve already seen major successes when we challenged big brands as part of our #BreedtoBreathe campaign. With your help and our new guidance, we hope to achieve even more results. As trusted leaders in animal health and welfare, together the veterinary profession really can influence change on this issue.

Hayley Atkin

Written by Hayley Atkin

BVA Policy Officer

Hayley provides the secretariat to BVA Scottish Branch and works with BVA members to develop evidence-based policy spanning companion animals, animal disease surveillance and farm assurance.