These reports are case summaries of complaints which appeared to raise issues of substance in relation to the interpretation of the ITC Advertising Standards Code. Summary statistics of non-substantive complaints can be found in the full reports which are obtainable from the ITC.
British Heart Foundation
Complaint from: 16 viewers
The advertisement showed children in everyday situations. A boy playing football with his friends said, "I'm useless, I always get out of breath". A girl playing chase said "It's not fair, I'm always it" and another girl, slightly older, looking at her scar in a mirror said of it, "The older I get, the more I see it". The endline read "Thanks to research an extra 3 in 5 children born with major heart defects now survive. It's the emotional scars they need help with now". Behind each child were masked images of themselves, which echoed their words as they spoke.
Viewers objected on a number of levels to this advertisement, in spite of its purpose to raise money for conditions, which either affected them, or their loved ones.
Five viewers reported that their children had suffered actual harm as a result of the advertisement suggesting that it had actually made matters worse. One said the advert singled out sufferers as people to be afraid of and that it implied that their scars should be kept hidden, another said that his son now feels that he's not as good as his friends. Another said, "I have a 9 yr old daughter with heart disease and scars as shown. She has never thought of herself as having a disability and had not worried about her scar, and certainly not been prejudiced by it in any way. She saw this today and was upset that a girl like herself with her condition was excluded at school by peers and that her scar is something to be ashamed of. This is also going to have been seen by her peers at school who have never treated her differently through careful management by us, her family, close friends and school, this has all been ruined by a thoughtless ad campaigning for more funding by showing these 'poor victims'".
Two viewers said the imagery of sad looking children being mimicked by the masks behind them was very distressing and not at all sensitive to the feelings of children suffering from congenital heart disease. A further two said they were offended by the unsympathetic treatment of the characters. Seven said that: it was harmful to so negatively portray sufferers - it did no good at all to present them as "sad, sick or psychotic"; it was damaging to a child's outlook on life to be presented with this bleak and depressing scene and that the advert, rather than fight the resentment and prejudice British Heart Foundation (BHF) claim to be working against, was likely instead to foster it. It was also suggested that the advert could frighten children who have or are about to undergo heart surgery as to what the future holds.
The advertisement was shown in the run up to British Heart Week (June 7-15) but is no longer on air. The advertiser said its aim was to create awareness about children with heart defects and to raise money to provide more nurses, further research and more support for patients and their families. It said research confirmed that children growing up with congenital heart disease feel left out and as they grow up can be treated differently or bullied so the advert aimed to deal with those tough issues relying heavily on the in-house expertise of the BHF itself and input from affected families. Ideas for what to include were collected from parents and relatives of sufferers. The script was shown to relatives before filming and the feedback was positive. The agency concluded that the script was a powerful, relevant and accurate way of highlighting the issue of congenital heart disease and, specifically why children with the disease need support.
The agency said that neither it nor its client wanted to offend or distress patients or their families.
The ITC understands the wish to attract public sympathy for the plight of these children, as well as the need to alleviate that plight in individual cases, and noted that the advertiser conducted relevant pre-production research on proposed scripts. However, TV advertising can be a powerful medium and, unless scheduled restrictively, is usually seen by most viewers of all ages. In this case, the advertising deliberately, and with the best of intentions, singled out a group of children who can be identified by their physical problems and who are quite often treated in unfortunate ways. (As the advertiser pointed out to the ITC, one in three children with heart disease reported that they had been bullied in school and some patients grow up with psychological and emotional problems.) The ITC was in no doubt that the advertiser was entitled to draw attention to problems these children face but felt that the method chosen - overtly showing identifiable children being isolated - might involve some risk of being counter-productive.
However, after judging the number and nature of the complaints, and taking account of the advertiser's consultations, the ITC concluded that this was a borderline case and did not uphold the complaints. Nevertheless, for the future, the ITC advised BACC to avoid scenarios of this kind where the group in question is known to suffer from various forms of discrimination.
Complaints not upheld. Guidance given.