Christmas ad showing Santa with Alzheimer's 'unlikely to cause distress'

A charity's Christmas ad depicting Father Christmas with Alzheimer's disease has escaped a ban despite dozens of complaints that it would be offensive and cause distress to children.

Thirty-six people complained to the Advertising Standards Authority about the Alzheimer’s Research ad that launched last November, which was created by Aardman Animations and narrated by Stephen Fry.

The animated ad showed a young girl being told that Santa Claus had stopped delivering presents because he had developed a disease. She then travelled to see Santa’s elves, who explained that research could find a way to fix him.

Fry’s voiceover at the end of the spot said: "Alzheimer's disease can affect anyone. Only research has the power to change the future."

When contacted by the ASA, Alzheimer’s Research UK said the the ad was the result of research, public consultation and work with families affected by dementia.

Its aim was to produce a film that was sensitive to the lives of people affected by dementia, but ensured that those unaffected by the disease could understand its nature and recognise the need for research, the charity added.

Because Santa Claus is a widespread character used in advertising, Alzheimer’s Research added, his use to promote awareness about the disease was highly unlikely to cause serious offence. 

The ad was cleared by Clearcast with an ex-kids timing restriction, meaning it should not be transmitted in or around programmes likely to appeal to children under 16 years old. 

In its judgment today, the ASA said: "We considered that an ex-kids scheduling restriction was appropriate, and did not consider that the scenes shown would demand stricter scheduling restrictions or a warning prior to the ad being shown.

"We therefore concluded that the ad had not been scheduled inappropriately, was not irresponsible and was unlikely to cause distress to those who viewed it."