Cockroach baby ads banned
December 10, 2003 4:48 AM   Subscribe

UK bans controversial charity ads In recent weeks, UK newspaper readers have been opening their newspapers to find full-page, colour pictures of a cockroach crawling out of the mouth of a baby. Now the adverts, for children's charity Barnardo's, have been banned. Barnado's maintain that the pre-Christmas ads were justified as "a way of cutting through the apathy."
posted by TheophileEscargot (46 comments total)
Full ASA adjudication here

I think they are a little obscene, and agree with the ASA.
posted by ajbattrick at 4:59 AM on December 10, 2003

Have to say I'm quite relieved... I tend to eat meals with a newspaper, and it's irritating to keep turning over the pages to find these ads all over the place. I'm also not convinced they help charities in the long run: I suspect they just encourage an arms race of which charity can produce the most shocking images, without actually increasing the amount that's given overall.

There was an interesting column by John Humpries a while back where he argued that these child poverty adverts are actually insulting to the poor: since they imply that a low income necessarily means filth and degradation.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 5:06 AM on December 10, 2003

The only problem I see is that betting on "even more shocking" images might not be such a good long-term strategy.

As for disgusting - gimme me a break. What's disgusting is what they denounce.

And, oh yes, extremely low income generally goes hand-in-hand with health and low self-steem issues. Ask around.
posted by magullo at 5:24 AM on December 10, 2003

Yeah, I mean, what's next?

Don't let this happen to you. Come to Joe's Bike Shop where we can fit your bicycle with a more comfortable seat.

[WARNING! Do NOT click! NSFW^10]

That being said, why don't consumers simply write to their papers as to why they won't be buying them anymore? That'd get more attention.
posted by shepd at 5:26 AM on December 10, 2003

Most of them, I found unpleasant, but the worst was the one with the bottle of metylated spirits.

The others had things crawling out of the mouth of the child, or sitting (relatively) benignly in the child's mouth, but the bottle of meths, upturned, had the baby being effectively force-fed the liquid by gravity (and the baby would have certainly been choking.)

Showing an image of a baby being abused like that is not going to evoke feelings of pity as much as anger (at least immediately) toward those (notionally percieved to be) doing the abuse - the meth bottle, unlike the syringe or cockroach, had to have been placed there deliberately.

Advertising people, eh? Tshh.
posted by Blue Stone at 5:29 AM on December 10, 2003

I'd hope that free speech (and I realize this is the UK, not the US) would trump irritation while you're trying to shovel toast and bacon into your mouth. I don't know that images such as these would be very effective. In fact I would expect that they have a negative effect just because people flinch away from anything shocking before a message can penetrate.
posted by substrate at 5:30 AM on December 10, 2003

shepd - That image is the most offensive I have seen and despite the 'NSFW^10' caveat does not belong at Metafilter.

As your profile says
'I might piss you off...........And if I do, please correct me.'

I see you are very much anti-censorship. I am not interested in debating that issue, but feel that linking to that image is neither funny or appropriate.
posted by kenaman at 5:42 AM on December 10, 2003

The 'ole wreaks havoc again.
posted by Witty at 5:50 AM on December 10, 2003

Actually I don't think the goatse image is as bad as the baby-and-cockroach image. Maybe Joe's Bike Shop should take out that ad after all...
posted by TheophileEscargot at 5:53 AM on December 10, 2003

The anti-smoking pictures on Canadian cigarette packages (and in other non-smoking advertisements) annoy me. I don't smoke, don't plan to, but I'm still subjected to these nauseating ads. I think they can stop their crusade now honestly. Everyone knows about cigarettes already. Really.
posted by ODiV at 6:01 AM on December 10, 2003

What offends you guys?
posted by kenaman at 6:04 AM on December 10, 2003

I'm offended by people complaining instead of simply turning the page, turning the television off, taking the video game back to the shop, hitting the 'eject' button, or walking out of the cinema.
posted by cheaily at 6:18 AM on December 10, 2003

So apathy really doesn't work.
posted by johnnyboy at 6:21 AM on December 10, 2003

kenaman, we're individuals so what people find offensive varies. I think the manifestation of that offense varies as well. Some people find things offensive and write letters to the editor. Other people find things offensive and shrug it off. Still other people find things offensive and demand that they be removed from their sight, ears or whatever sensory organ is appropriate.
posted by substrate at 6:29 AM on December 10, 2003

I am not debating your collective right to look far, far up the ruptured ass in the pic and I must take some blame for clicking on the link, I just didnt think that I would see images like that at Metafilter........... I have learned my lesson.
posted by kenaman at 6:32 AM on December 10, 2003

Skallas: So not wanting to look at huge colour pictures of dead babies makes me a Nazi?

OK I don't give that much to charity... about 3% of my pre-tax income. How much do you give? Or does your charity only extend to plastering statements of your compassion all over the internet?

I notice most of these statements of tolerance are coming from a nation whose newspapers even censor butt-cracks out of Dilbert cartoons...
posted by TheophileEscargot at 6:35 AM on December 10, 2003

apparently goatse is not as legendary as one would assume...
posted by pxe2000 at 6:38 AM on December 10, 2003

I would dare say that's one of the most recognized pictures on the entire internet. Which is an interesting thought in itself.
posted by imaswinger at 6:47 AM on December 10, 2003

kenaman, just trying to make a point with a common internet meme (I'm surprised you've not been tricked into clicking it at least once -- At least I provided a pretty serious warning. No smileys!).

I suppose you haven't visited a certain site featuring a tub and a girl yet. I won't link it. That way the curious won't complain!

Yes, I'm very anti-censorship (especially after having been censored myself lately for odd reasons). However, I'm certainly pro consumers deciding what they want to buy. I'm assuming a large number of consumers of this media were disturbed by this advertising and didn't want to see it. The best answer is to stop funding what you don't support. Explaining why you're dropping the funding just helps drive the point home. And if it's sent to you for free (which I doubt) just recycle it. The force of the market will determine what is appropriate and what isn't.

That being said, if I do tell you to shut up here, correct me. Unfortunately, my support for somone's right to say what they please comes with the same level of support for people to ignore what they like. Sometimes ignoring something comes from turning the page, sometimes it comes from refusing to support it.

That all boils down to my decision NOT to tell people to be quiet because I want to be open minded on matters, but also to support people's rights to remain closed minded.

Hope that clears it all up! :-) And thanks for reading my bio.
posted by shepd at 6:50 AM on December 10, 2003

kenaman: That site is a well known thread de-railer. Its been around just about forever on the net. Having said that, it really isn't necessary to link to it, just refer to it. If someone doesn't know what it is, they'll ask.

Back to the thread though, I think these ads were necessary. Even though they have now been pulled, people are talking about the ad and as a result, the issues they raise.

There were more than two ads in the campaign. All four ads can be seen here. The space is still booked for further ads, so expect to see a new ad soon.

3.8 million children live below the poverty line in this country. That figure is unacceptable.
posted by davehat at 6:54 AM on December 10, 2003

shepd - I take your well made points and respect your posistion.
As for the ad, shocking but not offensive to me, but there you go!
posted by kenaman at 7:12 AM on December 10, 2003

Note that the poverty line is defined as living in a household with less than 60% of the national income. So, it's unlikely to be eliminated completely.

Skallas: free speech has limitations in advertising. I'm not allowed to imply that my Escargot Light cigarettes heal cancer unless I've got some evidence for it. Similarly, if Barnado's don't actually stop babies being force-fed bleach, their adverts shouldn't depict it.

As I said already, I doubt very much that shock tactics increase the total donations to charity: they just encourage charities to compete as to who can have the most shocking advertising.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:16 AM on December 10, 2003

As an advertising insider, perhaps I can offer an insight into the mindset at work here.

Most of our (and I'm using the universal "our" here, as in the advertising industry) clients are really, really boring. Incredibly conservative. For the most part you can't blame them, since they have a lot invested in their companies and don't want to screw that up. So they're afraid to take any chances.

Also, whoever at the client is responsible for greenlighting the ads generally falls into one of the following categories: an uncreative beancounter, a useless incompetent sychophant, a wannabe creative with absolutely no sense of taste or style, or a paranoid obsessive. Really, it's a wonder any good ad manages to make it past these people.

We in the industry are creative, with very few exceptions (well, except for the account reps, but they don't count). We spend our days coming up with incredibly creative ways of selling boring products, only to have those concepts butchered by the account reps, clients, and focus group testing (oh, don't get me started on those).

An aside: Salon a few years back had a great story on icons. There are reams of regulations created by companies describing the various advertising icons and how they behave. There was a great Got Milk? ad, featuring a family sitting around eating cookies, then finding themselves out of milk, and the last shot was the Pillsbury DoughBoy quaffing the last of the milk, with cookie crumbs around his lips. Only it was never made, because Pillsbury killed it. The DoughBoy is an "enabler" and would never do something detrimental to the family. The ad would have been wonderful, and Pillsbury would have reaped tons of favourable impressions, but their mindset was too limited to go beyond their regulations.

OK, so you have all these phenominally creative types languishing under byzantine rules, watching their fantastic creations die ignoble deaths. Along comes... the non-profit group. These people are almost the opposite of clients. They're crusaders, and often can't afford all the middlemen who screw things up. They also can't afford to pay most of the time. Advertising agencies work on these accounts for free. Suddenly the straight-jackets are off, and anything goes. It's an asylum let loose. Every bizarre, evil, twisted, sublime, ridiculous and just pure genius idea they've ever had suddenly has an outlet. And for good or ill, it gets expressed.

Without any restraint, there's nobody to question whether it's in good taste or not. The charity is looking for attention, any attention, and the ad people are looking at submitting their creative work for an advertising award. Pick up any award show book and you'll find it's littered with pro bono work. It's far more edgy, more compelling work than they normally get to do.

A few years back, I saw an ad for an ad agency itself. It featured a baseball bat, smeared with blood and gore, and was captioned "Little League Coach". The copy talked about "knowing how to get results". It was incredibly sick, and many in the industry acknowledged that, but a few still defended it on the "no censorship" grounds.

So yes, advertisers would show disciples sopping up the blood of Jesus with Bounty towels, or Hitler espousing Bayer products for getting rid of headaches, if someone would let them. The award shows feed into this by rewarding memorable over effective (partly because it's so difficult to measure comparative effectiveness). They forget that memorable and effective are not necessarily the same. These ads certainly are memorable, but if they don't inspire the audience to act they're worthless.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 7:39 AM on December 10, 2003

free speech has limitations in advertising.

I agree that this should be the case, the most obvious example of problems being political input into adverts.

if Barnado's don't actually stop babies being force-fed bleach, their adverts shouldn't depict it.

But this is just silly, it is possible to be too literal in one's interpretation of a message.
posted by biffa at 7:39 AM on December 10, 2003

GhostintheMachine - where did you learn to post like that?
posted by kenaman at 7:45 AM on December 10, 2003

"I notice most of these statements of tolerance are coming from a nation whose newspapers even censor butt-cracks out of Dilbert cartoons."

I once drew a poster for a local band, involving a pig doing a (half-) moonie. I had to change it when a pub landlord refused to allow it to be posted. Some grotty-pub-owner, probably with his patrons saying things like "fuck" and (no doubt) one of those cards featuring a naked lady obscured by salty peanuts, objected to a cartoon pig with far less offensive but-cleavage than you'll see on any building site on any day of the week.

I also did a poster for a theatre company, where the printers refused to print the poster as it was because there were a tiny pair of mating concrete cows, in total silhouette, as featured in the script and took it upon themselves to erase the offending creatures from the final print.

Go on a field trip to a farm and you can see great steaming bull cock. But don't dare allow children to see cartoon silhouette cows mounting each other!

This is in ENGLAND.
posted by Blue Stone at 7:48 AM on December 10, 2003

Biffa: Barnado's used to be a charity that provided homes for orphans. Though they stopped doing that years ago, it's still something they are perceived to do. So, another annoying thing about the campaign is that they're implying that they're still actively involved in "rescuing" children.

If you look at their website, while they do miscellaneous projects, their main focus is on "campaigns" and "raising awareness".

In other words, they run high-profile media campaigns like this; then plough most of the money back into more media campaigns.

Barnado's aren't as bad as some, but with some of these charities it's hard to see who really benefits from the cycle... apart from the advertising agencies and the charity's salaried staff...
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:55 AM on December 10, 2003

kenaman: what, NFSW to the TENTH POWER wasn't enough of a disclaimer?
posted by sneakums at 8:17 AM on December 10, 2003

Is it Photoshop Phriday already? That should definitely run on Something Awful - the forum goons could do a much better job..

Don't you think goatse is just a little bit more disturbing than these, being as it's a real photo, and not some chopped up montage?
posted by jiroczech at 8:34 AM on December 10, 2003

TheophileEscorgot, are you being intentionally obtuse?

The term "campaign" as used by Barnardos refers to the variety of different methods used as a means to fulfill their purpose, one which essentially boils down to "what is in the best interests of children and young people."

A media campaign is a series of ads with a common theme in a variety of formats.

As an example, one can safely assume that Oxfam's Iraq campaign is not the same as the US military's Iraq campaign.

Barnardos do not exist merely to pay their staff and run adverts. What would be the point?
posted by davehat at 8:36 AM on December 10, 2003

Davehat, are you being intentionally obtuse?

I provided a link to their campaign page which explains exactly what they think a campaign is. Also, I explicitly said in my comment that Barnado's actually do some real projects as well.

There is a difference between actually providing a service, and simply "campaigning" for better services from the state. I suspect that many people donate to campaigning-only charities in the mistaken belief that they're providing concrete help.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:55 AM on December 10, 2003

What I don't get is why people don't just complain to the newspapers who ran the ads. Surely they had to greenlight them.

I don't see why banning would be necessary if readers simply gave feedback to the media that ran the ads, indicating that they were upsetting and unacceptable.
posted by beth at 10:26 AM on December 10, 2003

GhostintheMachine - where did you learn to post like that?

Like what? Is there something unusual about my post? Other than a complete lack of brevity, that is...
posted by GhostintheMachine at 10:43 AM on December 10, 2003

TheophileEscargot - think "raising awareness". It might help. Or maybe not.
posted by magullo at 10:56 AM on December 10, 2003

OT/ GhostintheMachine Maybe they didn't want to show the dough boy with cookie crumbs around his mouth because that would imply that he was eating himself or his siblings, since he's made from dough and all. /ot


The campaign has raised my awareness and makes me want to stop this charity from putting bugs in children's mouths and then taking pictures of them. Someone has to think of the children!
posted by haqspan at 1:13 PM on December 10, 2003

davehat: Back to the thread though, I think these ads were necessary. Even though they have now been pulled, people are talking about the ad and as a result, the issues they raise.

Are people actually talking about the issues? This is the third discussion site I've seen these ads on. Thanks to TheophileEscargot I've finally got a grasp on who Barnado's was/is before that I had a vague idea they had something to do with children. What with all the ad type being reduced to mice type in the scans, I had no idea this was an awareness campaign against child poverty.
posted by Mitheral at 1:36 PM on December 10, 2003

pillsbury has learned something, these days he freelances and co-stars in a Sprint ad.

posted by dabitch at 2:04 PM on December 10, 2003

Is the Advertising Standards Authority a government agency? How does free speech work in UK? Can someone please explain.
posted by Bag Man at 4:36 PM on December 10, 2003

I don't need these rather nasty pictures to know that there are far to many children under the poverty line in the UK, so I can't say I'm upset to see these ads go.
What really creaps me out though is the thought of the folks in the ad agency dreaming these up.
"Oh guys, I've got a fantastic idea, we take newly born babies and stick cockroaches in their mouths, yeah?"
"Brilliant, babies with cockroaches in their mouths, I love it."
"Hey, what about syringes too?"
"We're so good at advertising"
posted by chill at 4:55 PM on December 10, 2003

Is the Advertising Standards Authority a government agency?
No, see the link from ajbattrick at the start of this thread.

How does free speech work in UK? Can someone please explain.
I don't know, but I guess that it is fairly similar to how it works in the US, i.e. say what you want within reason. I am pretty sure that these days we are bound by the European Convention on Human Rights, so try Googling for that.
posted by chill at 5:03 PM on December 10, 2003


Thanks for the info...based on want you said and the images themselves, I still don't see a problem. Sure they're a bit icky, but that's all.
posted by Bag Man at 5:43 PM on December 10, 2003

"Sushi?" lol

The babies look ugly, I think that's the problem here. They needed some smiling, radiant white, nappy (diaper) babies and then people might not have got so offended with the whole cockroach in the mouth business...
posted by Onanist at 3:08 AM on December 11, 2003

The Advertising Standards Industry has a self-description here. It's not a government body: it's voluntary industry self-regulation.

Which again is why the US comments about "censorship" are somewhat misleading. The US media also regulates ("censors"?) itself, to far tighter standards than the UK.

The key difference to me seems to be that the ASA does its regulation in public. The US posters seem to be working on the assumption that since they're never told what's rejected, it doesn't happen...
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:25 AM on December 11, 2003

Larger pictures of the ad are available here.

One of the images rather different from the others. Its almost as if they anticipated this whole furore....

So, another annoying thing about the campaign is that they're implying that they're still actively involved in "rescuing" children.

If you look at their website, while they do miscellaneous projects, their main focus is on "campaigns" and "raising awareness".

If you click on the link on the homepage that says “what we do”, this is the info you get:
Barnardo's stopped running homes for orphans over 30 years ago, but our work today is based on the same set of values that Barnardo's was founded on in 1866. Since then the services we provide have changed and they will continue to do so, but our aim to help children and young people in the greatest need stays the same. We're proud of our past, but what concerns us most is children today and their future.

We run projects across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Every project is different but each has the same goal; to help disadvantaged children to reach their full potential. We help them overcome challenging experiences and tackle to effects of disadvantage and to help them develop into well-rounded adults. We call this 'giving children back their future'.

Children only get one chance at childhood. Barnardo's makes sure that they can make the most of it, what ever the circumstances.
If you would like to see what they are doing in your area, please use this rather handy facility on their site.

If you would like to read a story of how Barnardo’s projects help real people, here is an example.
posted by davehat at 5:01 AM on December 11, 2003

Interestingly, it seems that TV and Radio ads are soon to be self regulated in the same way that print and cinema ads are (such as the ads being discussed here).
posted by chill at 8:05 AM on December 11, 2003

aha. The "silver spoon" connection makes it all clear. That's rather clever after all.
posted by mdn at 8:23 AM on December 11, 2003

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