To promote the England Blind Football Team (yes, you heard right), online betting site Paddy Power ran the ad above, which features a blind footballer kicking a cat. After receiving more than 1,000 complaints, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) deemed the ad inoffensive. From the BBC:
Viewers said bookmaker Paddy Power’s advert was offensive to blind people and could encourage animal cruelty. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said it was not offensive in itself to create an advert referring to people with a disability. Paddy Power said it featured an action “so unlikely that it was absurd”.
The ASA said: “We considered that the action in the ad would be interpreted by most viewers as a humorous depiction of a fictional situation, with the humour derived from the surreal and improbable circumstances, when an unforeseeable and accidental action occurred.
“We considered it was unlikely to be seen by most viewers as malicious or to imply that blind people were likely to cause harm to animals whilst playing football.”
The decision was immediately slammed by animal welfare and sight loss and charities. The RSPCA says it is “disappointed” by the decision. “We feel that adverts like this give out a mixed message, no matter how innocently intended,” it adds.
A spokeswoman for the RNIB applauded Paddy Power for using blind players but said it is concerned the ad could “reinforce some negative stereotypes and attitudes about blind people”
Paddy Power claims blind footballers would “gain a greater awareness and admiration” following its “light-hearted” ad and has received “extremely positive feedback” from the blind and partially sighted community. The bookmaker adds it was careful not to portray the cat-kicking as “deliberate or fun.”
I found the ad tasteless, but Paddy Power has a point–the cat is fine at the end of the ad. I’m not sure this ad would be allowed in the States, not because we’re nicer to cats, but because we’re more likely to sue.
In my travels abroad, I’ve seen a number of UK-based animal welfare organizations (most recently a horse and donkey welfare org. in Egypt). This gave me the impression that people in the UK are especially concerned with animal welfare. Yet the watchdog organization there let the ad run, reminding me of how appropriateness in advertising is almost always culture-specific.