The ad from vegan campaign group Viva! – seen on social media sites Facebook and Instagram, language teaching app Duolingo and the PokiGames app – depicted a woman eating a ‘corner style’ yogurt filled with bloody and raw offal meat while a voiceover informed the viewer the ‘killer yogurt’ had been flavoured with a “mother’s grief”.
Viewers are then shown blood dripping down the woman’s face, followed by a close-up of a spoon mixing yogurt with the bloody meat products. The ad concludes with images of an indoor dairy farming shed filled with cows.
Complainants challenged whether the ad were likely to cause unnecessary distress and serious and widespread offence, and that it was irresponsibly targeted, because it had been seen by children.
Viva! claimed the ad was intended to be for adult audiences who would understand it was a theatrically staged parody and argued that viewers were increasingly numbed to shock factors like death and violence on TV, making their product mild by comparison.
It also argued that the ad had been submitted to platforms that only users over the age of 18 would be able to access and noted that Facebook and Instagram had considered it to be acceptable under their policies.
However, Viva! claimed it was unaware ads on YouTube, served by the Google display network, could appear on other sites and apps – this is how the ad ended up on Duolingo. In the case of PokiGames, the ad had been inaccurately labelled as 'Food & Drink/Cooking & Recipes/Cuisines/Vegetarian Cuisine’ when it was in fact a campaign ad and should not have appeared on the service in the first place.
On the first complaint for distress and offence, the ASA ruled that the ad had breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 4.1 and 4.2 (Harm and offence) in light of the language and gory scenes and the unjustified distress likely to be caused by this ad, particularly to children.
In regard to the inappropriate targeting of the ad, ASA argued that Viva’s exclusions had proved insufficient to prevent the ad from being seen on apps that were likely to appeal to children. It concluded that the targeting exclusions had been insufficient to target the ad away from children and thus had breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 (Social responsibility).
ASA ruled the ad must not appear again in the form complained about and told Viva! to ensure future ads were prepared responsibly, were appropriately targeted and did not contain graphic scenes or language that were likely to cause unjustified distress to viewers.