Distressing Barnardo's ad escapes ban after almost 500 complaints

LONDON - A television ad for children's charity Barnado's featuring repeated scenes of violence has escaped a ban by the advertising watchdog despite almost 500 complaints that it was distressing to watch.

The 60-second ad, created by Bartle Bogle Hegarty, begins with two teenagers fighting outside a shop while a customer and the shopkeeper inside look on.

It cuts to a teenage girl behind a prison door and then to her at a kitchen table where a man hits her hard on the back of the head saying: "So they've let you out again have they, you worthless cow".

The girl is then shown at a desk in a school classroom looking up at the teacher and answering tearfully: "I don't know what it says" while someone in the background says "She can't read". Finally she is shown in a deserted setting after using drugs.

The four scenes alternate repeatedly at increasing speed, emphasising the sound of the slap and the girl's sobs. Large text appears on the screen stating: "For thousands of children in the UK the story will keep repeating itself, until someone stops it."

The Advertising Standards Authority received 477 complaints about the ad, the majority of which were from viewers who said the repeated scenes of violence and drug taking were distressing to watch and challenged whether they caused serious or widespread offence.

A total of 48 people challenged whether the ads were suitable for transmission at times when large numbers of children were likely to be watching, while 29 viewers, some of whom reported being abused as children, challenged whether the ads were likely to cause distress to those who saw them.

Barnardo's acknowledged that the ad was hard hitting but said that it needed to show the grim reality of the life of the young person concerned and for the public to understand it.

The charity said that the ads were approved for transmission on the condition that they were shown after 9pm only to ensure they were viewed within adult programme content rather than programmes that were aimed at children.

The ASA did not uphold the complaints deciding that the purpose and aim of the ad to raise awareness of domestic child abuse was likely to justify for most viewers the shocking experience of watching it.

It noted that although the scenes of violence might be unacceptable in other advertising, the TV Code contained provision for charity ads to contain scenes that might otherwise be unacceptable to viewers.

The advertising watchdog rejected the complaints about the ad being shown at times that children were watching because it was only shown after 9pm and Barnardo's took steps to schedule the ads away from post-9pm programmes that might attract a relatively or absolutely-large child audience.

It concluded that no further action was necessary.