Reports by Natalie Valios and Sally Gillen.
Barnardo’s has been forced to withdraw a series of adverts
that included a baby with a cockroach crawling out of its mouth
after the Advertising Standards Authority ruled they were
“likely to cause serious or widespread offence”.
The adverts, which appeared in a number of national newspapers,
were part of the charity’s campaign to end child poverty. But
the ASA launched an inquiry after receiving 450 complaints that the
ads were offensive and unduly distressing.
Barnardo’s had defended its campaign by likening it to
those for road-safety and anti-smoking campaigns, which it said
caused distress with good reason, but the advertising watchdog
rejected its justification.
Barnardo’s director of marketing and communications Andrew Nebel
said the charity was “disappointed” with the outcome
because it had consulted the Committee of Advertising Practice
while developing the campaign and felt it “complied fully
with the advertising guidelines”.
“While the adverts may have shocked some sensibilities,
they succeeded in highlighting the very serious issue of child
poverty in the UK and challenging the blinkered views of those who
claim it does not exist,” he said.
The campaign was prompted by an NOP survey that found 86 per
cent of the public questioned were unaware that child poverty
existed in the UK.
Nebel added: “We hoped the readers of the advertisements
would be able to look beyond the challenging images and realise
that that the real issue is the shocking fact that the UK has some
of the worst child poverty of all developed nations with the 3.8
million children officially living below the poverty line.
Just days after Barnardo’s launched its latest controversial
campaign, it took out a full-page advert in several of the Sunday
broadsheets, which would typically cost almost £25,000
The “silver spoon” campaign, now banned by the
Advertising Standards Authority, played on the fact that children
born into poverty are not born with silver spoons in their mouths.
The accompanying image showed a baby with a syringe, cockroach or
bottle of methylated spirits in its mouth.
The campaign’s aim was twofold: to highlight that the UK
has one of the highest levels of child poverty among the
world’s rich economies; and to show that babies born into
poverty are more likely to grow up addicted to alcohol and drugs,
become the victims and perpetrators of crime and become
It is just one in an increasing number of shocking images used
by charities to get their point across, but do they work? They
certainly seem to for the big advertising agencies behind them,
which regularly scoop the major annual advertising awards with ever
more controversial campaigns.
Community Care asked a sample of people in the social
care sector to comment on:
– The Barnardo’s campaign.
– Help the Aged’s “dead feet” campaign
highlighting how many older people die from illnesses during the
winter because they have to choose between heating or eating.
– The Changing Minds campaign from the Royal College of
Psychiatrists raising awareness that one in four of us will suffer
from a mental health problem in our lifetime.
– The use of celebrities to promote campaigns.
Graham Reiter, common assessment project officer,
“As a former frontline social worker, my gripe is that all
this publicity comes from charities which gives the impression that
they do the bulk of child protection work. But they don’t
– it’s undertaken by local authorities. In the
public’s view this work is invisible unless you get a case
like that of Victoria Climbié.
I don’t know how you get across a complex message about
all the factors that influence potential child protection issues. I
would suspect that anything other than a shock tactic might not
make an impression. I’m not sure there are many other ways of
doing it. Previous Barnardo’s campaigns clearly have had an
impact on me because I remember them – they have been
I wonder what is in it for the celebrity supporters. I’m
sure they benefit from being seen to do these things, but it
detracts from the issues. The only reason to have a celebrity is to
have someone who has some credibility with the issue. The images
Emma Bunton would have been portraying in her previous life would
have gone against what she was promoting for the NSPCC.”
Alex Sykes is on the management committee for A National
Voice, an organisation run for and by young people who have been in
care. A care leaver, he is at university studying public relations,
media and design management
“I don’t mind stuff that’s truthful as long as
it doesn’t humourise situations. The Help the Aged campaign
shows what’s really happening and the wider public needs to
be exposed to that.
The Barnardo’s image of the baby with a syringe in its
mouth shows the reality of babies who are born dependent on heroin.
This campaign should be backed up with more than just a poster and
leaflets. There should also be TV and radio programmes to coincide
with the release to show the wider aspects of the work these
charities do and why. Causing a little social outcry every now and
then is a good thing, as long as it is not overcooked.
Any campaign that achieves national coverage in the press is a
success, it’s free coverage and raises more awareness. My
only concern with these campaigns is that there will be a point
soon when they are going to have to re-invent or create a new angle
to communicate with the public and they could eventually push the
adverts to an extreme. They might start commercialising by having
their own branded food or drinks products. Branding destroys
credibility because people see it as a product and not a charity
with the issues it represents.
Pride is the nation’s biggest weakness which leads many to
believe that everything is hunky-dory and that the troubles of the
‘underclasses’ are of no concern to them. I hope
campaigns such as those from Barnardo’s and Help the Aged
will show why people need to be more involved whether through
becoming carers, mentors, residential and social workers or just
turning out to vote.”
Tommy Foley is a care leaver and on the management
committee for A National Voice. He is at college studying
“I can understand why people complained about the latest
Barnardo’s advert. A parent would object to the image because
it’s vulgar, shocking and nasty. It is shocking, but a lot of
things are shocking in life. For me as a care leaver, I have more
of a problem with the campaign Barnardo’s did a couple of
years ago about giving children back their future. One of the
adverts showed a child about to jump off a roof.
We are much more than a product of our past. Adverts like that
dwell on the child’s past and make it sound as though without
services or intervention they will be dead or become drug addicts.
The young people are portrayed as victims who are rescued by
charities, who would otherwise turn to drugs, prostitution or
suicide. It’s stereotyping them. Charities don’t think
about what young people will think of these adverts.
Shock tactics take away from what they are trying to do; these
tactics desensitise people and put them off. They will simply flick
The Help the Aged campaign was very good – there was no
stereotyping. Although it’s of dead people it’s not
graphic. It’s a thought-provoking message that makes you
think about the issue from a different angle.
As for celebrities, they like to be associated with charities
because it’s the thing to do. They get involved to showcase
themselves rather than the charity. And they aren’t promoting
the right ones. Charities such as the NSPCC spend too much money
promoting the brand rather than the services.”
Peter Beresford is professor of social policy at Brunel
University and active in the psychiatric system survivor
“When we have campaigns like the dead feet one or
Barnardo’s, the key issues for me are what’s it for,
who’s it for and who calls the tune?
Where are the service users in deciding on these campaigns? I
think I know where the ad people are – these are the kind of
campaigns that they like because they get awards for them. There is
a serious problem here in trying to shock.
But who are we actually branding here? The names of the
charities or the issues and rights of the people featured in the
campaigns? We have to avoid the traditional black and white
approach to social issues which devalue people as service users and
add to stereotypes.
It is essential that some serious discussions take place between
organisations and users to find out what they feel about these
campaigns. I would be surprised if they didn’t feel demeaned
and diminished – that’s what we feel at the service
user involvement group Shaping Our Lives. ”
Yvonne Roberts, author and Community Care
“The difficulty is that we live in a 30-second culture and
any journalist who tries to get these issues on a newspaper agenda
has trouble, so shock campaigns have a value in terms of creating
an event. In that respect I’m in favour.
Paradoxically, it accentuates the idea that people who use or
need charities’ services are different from the rest of us.
In the public mind, poverty means you are bound to fail. Some of
the more shocking advertisements make that look inevitable and
that’s the danger, so I have reservations.
The Help the Aged poster is very good. The Royal College of
Psychiatrists campaign has had an effect, because people are
changing their attitudes towards mental illness. But using
statistics doesn’t attract interest.
Shock horror is dated. We have to think of new powerfully visual
ways of creating a space for debate, elbow out celebrities and make
sure the serious stuff is discussed. Charities need to find other
ways to provoke debate while preserving the integrity of those
Using celebrities is a waste of time, I don’t think they
do any good. Most people think it’s a cynical exercise on
their part. But if a celebrity has been touched personally by an
experience and they support a relevant charity that’s useful
because the transaction is transparent.”