Whatever you do, don’t put a guinea pig in knickers!

Roller skating pandas;  a gorilla playing the drums. Memorable ads, but did you realise they breach the guidelines for using animals in marketing?

As a creative agency who works with a lot of animal health clients, we’ve always had to be ultra-careful about anything we do that features animals. While some people might think it’s amusing to dress up animals in human clothing or get them to do the things that humans do, these are things we avoid at all costs.

And the reason for that is not just about good taste, but because there are set directives you should follow.  Just as there are advertising standards for eliminating gender stereotypes from advertising (although we would argue the woman driver crashing into a pet shop in the Aviva ad is a bit of a gender stereotype…), there are standards that govern how animals should be portrayed and used in ads as well as what you can and can’t say.  These codes are  the NOAH Code of Practice for the Promotion of Animal Medicines and the BVA Advertising guidelines.

We take a look at how these directives impact on any kind of marketing campaign which features animals.

  1. Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but..

If you’re planning on using the word ‘safe’ or ‘new’ in a campaign for an animal medicine, then you better make sure you’re not breaching the NOAH Code.

Set up to ensure that any marketing of animal medicines is done in an accurate, fair and objective way, the NOAH code unsurprisingly is quite strict about what can and can’t be said. In particular it states, any claims must:

  • Be fair
  • Be balanced
  • Be accurate
  • Not be exaggerated or misleading.

Over the years a number of top companies have been caught out by using all-embracing claims or suggesting an active ingredient has some special quality over other products. By all means claim something; just make sure you have up-to-date evidence that can substantiate it.

  1. Don’t criticise the competition

At regular intervals the supermarket chains take a pop at each other, but if you are marketing an animal medicine, that’s a big no-no.

The NOAH Code clearly states that you should not ‘directly or by implication disparage the products or services of other companies’.

Bit of a shame really, as we’d love the animal health market to see the kind of rivalry (and clever marketing) shown by Audi and BMW when they went head-to head in a billboard battle in LA!

  1. Know your target audience

If you’re planning a big social media campaign for a product, always double-check it’s not a prescription only medicine. In line with the NOAH Code, POM-Vs can only be promoted to vets, vet nurses and pharmacists.

And any promotions aimed at veterinary students or Professional Keepers of Animals must primarily be concerned with education and/or disease information.

We should also mention that unlike with other products, if you are promoting an animal medicine, you have to exercise restraint in how often and how much promotion you do. Going at it all guns blazing definitely isn’t the right approach.

  1. Treat animals with the dignity they deserve

The NOAH Code states that any promotion should not only conform to legal requirements but also to ethical standards and canons of good taste, a sentiment that’s supported by the BVA.

Focused on the responsible use of animals used in marketing campaigns (and yes this also includes cartoons and CGI images), the BVA wants to ensure consumers are presented with messages that encourage responsible pet ownership and positive animal health and welfare outcomes.  And thinking about it, that makes absolute sense.

We are all guilty of anthropomorphising our pets, (buying them Christmas presents, thinking our dog is feeling guilty for having eaten our slippers), but that doesn’t mean it’s right and it’s definitely not something that should be normalised in marketing campaigns.  As the BVA points out, if you anthropomorphise animal behaviour, pet owners could end up missing health or wealth issues as they may think their pet is displaying a human emotion, such as sulking, when in fact it’s in pain.

Animals in advertising should be allowed to exhibit their normal behaviours and not dressed up, carried in handbags or made to do human or dangerous activities like skydiving or trampolining. It’s why the John Lewis Christmas ad with Buster the Boxer got reprimanded by the BVA, because unfortunately people copy what they see in marketing campaigns.  The bottom line is animals should only be shown doing things that are safe, appropriate and enjoyable for their species. Sorry, Buster!

  1. Use animals who are free from pain and suffering

There has been a lot of publicity recently about dog ear cropping and it’s great the government has finally committed to working with the #CutTheCrop campaign. But the reality is the media must take responsibility for driving consumer behaviour and demand.  Just look at the number of huskies bought and dumped because of Game of Thrones!

It’s why one of the key stipulations of the BVA directives is that animals with surgically altered characteristics, such as docked tails or cropped ears shouldn’t be used in marketing. They also state that you shouldn’t use animals with extreme characteristics, such as bulging eyes, short muzzles or visible skin folds. Not only does it increase the demand for breeds with hereditary defects, but also normalises the suffering caused.

British Bulldogs, Pugs and hairless varieties of pet are all examples of breeds to avoid. Looks like Churchie might have to go!

  1. Mistakes we see time and time again

Using the BVA advertising guidelines and the NOAH Code ensures all our work puts the animal’s health and welfare first, but once you read and understand the guidelines fully it’s shocking how many brands don’t comply.   Freeview, The AA, Dreamies, Flash – it makes you wonder if anyone actually reads the guidelines! And just to put it into context, here are a few of the common mistakes which show up time and time again.

  • Cats in a multi-cat environment
  • Dogs playing with sticks rather than dog safe toys
  • People picking up animals or holding them closely
  • Dogs chasing their tails
  • Rabbits with carrots
  • Pets sharing food with humans
  • Animals licking human faces

Look out for them next time you see animals used in ads.

Planning a marketing campaign?

So, if you’re planning on using animals in your marketing, make sure you choose a creative

agency that knows what they are doing and are fully focused on using animals in a dignified and safe way.

If you would like an informal chat with us, please get in touch.