Animals in Advertisements

For years Beauty Without Cruelty has been frustrated in seeing advertisements containing un-factual information released by the NECC (National Egg Co-ordination Committee). We have been unable to stop such false propaganda probably due to their financial clout with the media.

BWC has also come across advertisements unthinkingly released by companies whose owners basically have reverence for all life. For example, the JM Group released their company’s advertisement depicting bull-fights which we pointed out to them immediately.

Another aspect is that of advertisements which indirectly make people feel there nothing wrong in, for
example, eating non-vegetarian food like the Department of Information, Government of West Bengal’s Webel advertisement which stated that “Bengal is famous of fish… Soon it will be famous for chips!” The word ‘chips’ refers to the electronic chips.

Years ago, BWC had complained to the Advertising Standards Council of India about a TV ad promoting Siyaram’s Fabrics in which a cock fight was shown. Being illegal, the sequence was withdrawn.

Over the years BWC has noticed that advertisements of particular companies some times promote other companies like for example AFL (Airfreight) Ltd in one of their advertisements promoted one of their clients, McDonald’s. Some others like MaxTouch depicted a fish market in the background (with huge dead fish being held up by the fisher folk) to bring out the fact that their cellular phones filter background noise.

Chewing gum advertisements have featured cows. Some years ago the Orbit ad had shown a cow chewing with the tagline “its working”. The advertisement for Chlor mint was however cowed down. It showed cows being fed the chewing gum and then being ridiculously milked for ice cream. Even the disclaimer that this was a “symbolic representation” didn’t stop the ire of a political party. However, an ad for Mentos chewing gum got away with a disclaimer which reads “Donkeys are not intended to be working animals”.

Some times it is not the company itself, but another that could depict animal exploitation, e.g. HDFC Bank’s mail of 2008 giving guidance to customers protecting them from phishing was posted on the Management Account Blog with the picture of an angler displaying a huge fish that he had caught. Also, one of the HDFC Bank’s advertisements had an elephant balancing on a skateboard with “Faster financial appreciation” written alongside.

BWC has always been extra vigilant about advertisements involving animals and looks carefully for possible hidden non-animal-friendly messages projected. We therefore request our members and others to do the same and let us know when ever they come across an objectionable ad in the media.

As it is disastrous for the agency and the client if the ad is ordered to be withdrawn, they are now extra cautious (that’s the reason for the frequent disclaimers) and avoid using animals, even animated ones. Interestingly, the Advertising Council of India that used to receive only 20 complaints against 10 ads each month, now it gets 200 against 20 ads.

Many animal activists are alert and have begun objecting to offensive ads. For example, the Mint (Wall Street Journal – Hindustan Times) print advertisement was withdrawn in 2011 upon objection from FIAPO. It depicted a sketch of an elephant with a man on top aiming with an imaginary gun (however, two guns – one big and prominently positioned – were in the ad) at a tiger that was attacking the elephant.

An Alpenliebe candy commercial had showed a digitally created crocodile following an actress which sadly resulted in children throwing candy at crocodiles in zoos, hoping that they’d follow them home. They tried to compensate for this lapse in a later ad: the 2010 Alepenliebe sweets’ unique role-reversal advertisement created by McCann-Erickson, featuring a madari and a monkey is most delightful and BWC feels it must be making people think on the right lines.

Earlier, other positive approaches were seen and appreciated by BWC beginning with the bull dog that was used as a mascot by the Blitz weekly and later by India’s first tabloid, The Daily. (Live and picture mascots are said to bring luck, and have been used by umpteen organisations in the world. The most popular is the bull dog used by sports teams, schools, universities, military institutions, etc.). The Syndicate Bank also has a dog as part of its logo with the apt by-line “Your faithful and friendly financial partner”. The ING Vysya Bank has an orange coloured lion as its mascot. An advertisement of the United Bank of India depicted a beautiful dancing peacock with the by-line “Expanding the spectrum of delight”. Similarly, the National Insurance Company print-ad has a dancing peacock under a caption that reads “Spreading our wings… 266 new business centres opened”. Two “Plant more trees” advertisements issued in public interest by Hindustan Times are unique: one depicts a dog having just peed on a man’s trousers obviously because there was no tree he could find; and the other ad has bats hanging on a clothesline alongside wet clothes put out to dry.

However, not all ads send out an animal-friendly message as can be seen from the ones BWC has

IDBI Bank: In the beginning of 2009 IDBI Bank advertisements on TV and in print featured a baby elephant kicking a ball. The caption said “Not just for the big boys” followed by: “IDBI Bank – Banking for All”. Initially, BWC felt that Ogilvy & Mather and the IDBI had produced this concept unthinkingly. We wrote to the bank, pointing out that elephants should be in the wild, not in circuses or kicking balls, and the only way animals can be taught to perform unnatural acts is via torture, hunger and fear – normally, elephants do not willingly or happily kick balls. We had hoped it would not be long before the IDBI Bank withdrew the offending advertisement, which was far from animal-friendly. However, their reply, pointing out that the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) had approved the advertisement, shocked BWC. Moreover, the Advertising Standards Council of India did not uphold a complaint received by them about the advertisement because of this no-objection certificate (NOC). On approaching the AWBI for an explanation, they replied that “pre-shoot registration was issued on 8th August 2008 and NOC on 22nd September 2009. The “Hathisoccer” ad was shot in South Africa.” They obviously chose to see no animal exploitation or cruelty in training a baby elephant to kick a ball in South Africa! The AWBI had, however, seen plenty wrong in a Vodafone advertisement in which a pug was just running. While BWC wondered if the AWBI officials concerned were conniving, the IDBI Bank withdrew the part of the advertisement where the baby elephant was made to kick a ball.

Volkswagen Polo: Our attention was drawn to Volkswagen’s new Polo car advertisements in which buffaloes, rhinos and other animals were being cruelly aggravated. BWC wrote to the company condemning such ads and saying that irrespective of where and when they were filmed, and whether shown on TV, or in print, they were subject to the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, and, if they were not withdrawn, we would be forced to complain to the Advertising Council of India as well as urge potential buyers to boycott the vehicles. They responded saying “We have taken your concern very seriously and would request you to note that the campaign has been discontinued. We would once again like to thank you for bringing the matter to our notice.” Later, BWC got to know that in 2008 Volkswagen had pulled a commercial off British TV screens after the Advertising Standards Authority received over 500 complaints, and after a Royal SPCA investigation. That advertisement featured a dog sitting in the passenger seat of a Volkswagen Polo, “singing” the Spencer Davis Group song “I’m a Man” but shivering, trembling and cowering when outside the car – the dog’s stunt double had been placed on a special motorized plate to create that effect on film.

Renaissance Hotel, Mumbai: A magazine article stated that Renaissance placed a gold fish bowl on tables of customers who came in alone in to the hotel’s coffee shop. BWC therefore wrote them pointing out in detail the suffering and trauma inflicted upon the poor gold fishes and requesting them to withdraw their advertising gimmick. They replied they did understand our reason for care and concern and that they were “happy to stop this practice with immediate effect”.

Zuari Cement: Another elephant TV ad depicted the animal jumping on a trampoline so BWC wrote to them saying that what the elephant is made to do was absolutely unnatural and no different to a circus act and that very few people would realise that the elephant used for filming the ad was not live, but computer-generated. The company had justified their ad by saying that no cruelty had actually taken place. We again wrote them that their ad projected a negative message particularly since it looked very real – not at all like an animated cartoon film. We went on to point out that it was worrying because no child would realise that the elephant filmed was not live and at a young impressionable age, children who watched this advertisement could feel there was nothing cruel in making an elephant jump up and down on a circus trampoline and would even be misled into thinking that the animal is enjoying doing so. We said that there can be no humour in seeing an animal perform and in the wild no elephant jumps thus. It only happens in animal-acts in circuses for which the animals have been trained to perform using torture, hunger and fear. Unfortunately, Zuari Cement of the Italcementi Group has not withdrawn the advertisement which shows and promotes cruelty.

Accenture: BWC wrote to Accenture saying that while we realised that their advertisements were probably computer generated and hopefully no live animals had been subjected to suffering, we wished to request them to avoid projecting animal exploitation. We cited the example of one of their advertisements depicting a sheep with unnatural extra wool and pointed out that the picture could give an idea to a researcher to tinker with the genes of sheep so that they grow excessive wool. Their attention was also drawn to another Accenture advertisement showing a live fish frozen in a block of ice placed in front of a polar bear. Their response is awaited.

Emirates: A print advertisement of the airline depicting a bull and matador appeared in a leading newspaper. The small print below the picture read “Identify this European city to fly there.” Beauty Without Cruelty immediately wrote to the group pointing out that it may not have struck them that cruelty and killing is an inappropriate subject to use to attract customers in and from India whose culture is based on non-violence. We informed them that many of our members and others do not visit Spain because of its gory bull-fights and if they did not withdraw their advertisement many were unlikely to fly Emirates.

Animal Welfare Board of India: It was disgraceful that in January 2011 during the Animal Welfare Fortnight, the AWBI released a nation-wide advertisement in newspapers which was supported by the Council for Leather Exports! In an excess of hypocrisy the CLE's website URL was even placed right next to the AWBI's website URL. BWC wrote to the Union Minister of Environment & Forests pointing out that meat and leather are two sides of the same coin, and leather cannot be obtained without killing animals. Also that if the AWBI does not show reverence for life, it ought to close down. We asked for no explanation because it would have obviously been a cover up. Instead, we requested that rules should be put in place to ensure such grave, illogical mistakes never re-occur. Ironically, the Board’s explanation (as projected by the Chairman in a discussion with some one) was that the AWBI saw nothing wrong in CLE’s money being put to good use! In other words, murder and then pay with blood money earned to create public awareness not to murder. This was not the first time that the AWBI upset animal rights activists. In the late 1980s the Government, probably unthinkingly, appointed the Chairman of the Expert Committee for the Promotion of the Meat Industry as the Chairman of the Animal Welfare Board of India. Public outrage resulted in his removal.

Flipkart: TV Ads promoting this on-line bookstore showed a live mouse in different ways like turning within a wheel, and being pressed as if it were a computer mouse. Therefore, in April 2011 BWC wrote to the owners of the business requesting that even if a live mouse had not been utilised in their ads and it was computer generated, since the concept does not give out a good message as far as respect of all creatures goes, they should please withdraw these ads. Their reply was an attempt at trying to assure BWC that “no harm had been caused to any animals during the making of the film. The mice were trained and handled by professional mouse wranglers who provide this service.” Furthermore they sent BWC the NOC from the AWBI. BWC fails to understand as to how AWBI can give clearance for films shot in South Africa, i.e. outside India. Connivance – once again? The ads stopped being telecast after BWC wrote to the Ministry for Environment & Forests to this effect saying illegal permission had been granted by the AWBI.

Sobha Developers: In May 2011, a full-page advertisement of a woman wearing a fur hat was released in a newspaper. Although the idea was to depict the cool climate surrounding their constructions, the subtle message conveyed was that it was normal to use fur derived through killing animals. BWC explained the cruelty in obtaining furs, etc. and requested them to withdraw the ad. They replied “We will keep your concern in mind.”

Bharati Airtel was approached by BWC with a request to delete the words Kutte Kamine from their
advertisement lyrics Har Ek Friend Zarrori Hota Hai. No reply has been received, but an edited version without the offending words seems to be telecast.

LIC India:
In March 2014, a TV advertisement showed a family rejoicing when the father reeled in not one, but two, fish. BWC has written to LIC to withdraw the ad since it encourages fishing which is contrary to our Indian culture of ahimsa or no-killing, and is therefore not appreciated by animal rights persons and vegetarians.


P C Jeweller: BWC objected to a jewellery advertisement depicting a woman with fur draped on her, which was printed in the August 2014 issue of Hello! In a letter to the company, BWC said the subtle message conveyed was that it was normal, okay and elitist to use fur derived through killing animals. BWC explained the cruelty in obtaining furs and requested them to withdraw the advertisement and inform their designers not to come up with concepts which indirectly promote cruelty and killing of animals.

KIA Motors India: In 2019 BWC objected to their advertisement frequently aired on TV. It showed a tiger’s tail being stamped upon by circus artists. Even if the animal was computer generated we felt it should not be allowed by the AWBI because of the cruelty depicted. As India had banned the use of all animals in circuses, such an advertisement was inappropriate. Soon after we complained, the advertisement was not seen on TV again.

upGrade: In August 2020, BWC sent an e-mail complaint to the ASCI (Advertising Standards Council of India) with copies to the company and producers of the commercial about their TV advertisement featuring a donkey which insulted humans and degraded animals. BWC pointed out that the concept to promote the idea of “lick ass” using a live donkey or ass that showed 3 humans licking it in an office was perverse and strongly objectionable. It violated the ASCI code that made it offensive to the public because it was not within the bounds of generally accepted standards of pubic decency and propriety. The other points raised by BWC in its objections were that the Election Commission of India had directed all parties to refrain from using live animals and calling their opponents by animal names such as gadha. Furthermore, the 2019 Livestock Census stated that only 1.20 lakh donkeys were left in India therefore disrespecting these hard-working animals by portraying a donkey in an abusive advertisement should not be allowed – 70% of them worked in the brick kiln industry and the rest worked for the defence carrying supplies to places over 19,000 feet, as well as in pilgrimage spots like Vaishno Devi. BWC was not the only complainant nevertheless 2 days after our complaint the advertisement was not seen as often or in full on TV. We hoped it would be removed from all other platforms like YouTube also, but the ASCI did not uphold our complaint. BWC suspects that they overlooked seeing the first part of the advertisement in which the poor donkey had been subjected to stress and was licked by three persons, and surprisingly focused only on the second half of the advertisement where the employee stated in Hindi career mai aage badgne ke liye muzhe chatne ki nahi… sirf specialization ki zaroorat hai… and found it humorous.

Amul: Since people were giving up milk and milk products in 2021 Amul released full-page advertisements listing so-called Myths and Facts presented in a distorted manner in order to sell Amul dairy milk and fraudulently run down plant milk. BWC sent strong objections to ASCI because the advertisement aimed to mislead consumers and was not truthful or fair to the manufacturers of plant milk who they consider to be their competitors. The heading stated that “plant-based dairy analogue products like soya beverages are not milk”. We pointed out that no one mistakes it to be so since it is far superior to dairy milk on nutritional, ethical and environmental grounds. Plant milks are not dairy but milk nevertheless, e.g. coconut milk which has been consumed by humans for as long as, or possibly longer than, dairy milk. Although ASCI did not uphold our complaint to the objectionable advertisement and get it withdrawn FSSAI issued a Press Release saying that Soybean Curd, Coconut Milk, Peanut Butter, etc. do not violate the use of dairy terminology for non-dairy or plant based products. This was subsequent to BWC pointing out that the word Milk and its derivatives where not the prerogative of the dairy industry and that it should be labelled as cow/buffalo/goat/camel/soy/almond/cashew milk and so on.

Fogg: In 2021-22, a one-minute so-called social message advertisement film on TV literally showed an elephant in the room with the message carona ka haathi nikal gaya hai, bus poonch baki hai. The filming must obviously have been traumatic with so much chaos around for the poor elephant. BWC requested the AWBI to take appropriate action and get it withdrawn.

Celebration Land by Abhinandan Lodha: In 2022 they launched a project situated at the foothills of Matheran (Maharashtra) through which a river ran. Their advertisement depicted a picture of a person angling with the caption “The calming influence of a perennial river”. This was strongly objected to by BWC on grounds that angling and fishing were no different to hunting, killing and slaughter.

Please help BWC by keeping your eyes and ears open to cruelty inflicted upon animals and birds through advertisements.

In November 2021 following a number of complaints that it is not easy for animals to perform before blinding lights, cameras and crowds, the Animal Welfare Board of India issued an Advisory to the makers of films, shows and ads that CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) and VFX (Visual Effects) should be prioritised instead of involving live animals in shoots. However, the producers expressed reluctance because they felt live animals work better, moreover they want to remain within their budget which they feel they easily can only if live animal actors are utilised.

The advisory stated “animals are requested to be transported to far-off film studios and locations, sometimes even outside the state perimeter. At film sets, already stressed animals are exposed to crowds, artificial lights, chaos, and often dressed up in costumes and made to follow commands to deliver the scenes. Against their natural instincts and behaviour, animals are forced to do unnatural actions such as driving, riding pillion, playing musical instruments and other physical gestures. A film set is a frightening and distressing environment for animals. This increases the chance of animals getting startled and hurting themselves or others, causing all involved unnecessary pain and suffering. When not working, these animals spend most of their lives chained or in cramped, filthy, barren cages, deprived of everything natural and important to them, often including the companionship of others of their own species.

“Further, it is stated that welfare of animals on-set and off-set both is imperative. Off-set to ensure a desired output from an animal at a film set, trainers routinely use methods that involve coercion or punishment to force animals to perform, causing them unnecessary pain and suffering, violating Sections 3 and 11 of the PCA Act. The Board is in receipt of numerous complaints reporting that many animals have died or been injured at production sets for films, TV shows and other digital contents due to accidents and that they are often forced to spend hours in a stressful environment.

“In this regard, it is stated that few Film production companies are increasingly using technology that also upholds animal welfare. Between 2016 and 2020 majority of the films sought permission to show animals as Computer Generated Imagery (CGI). Many Indian films such as Tanhaji, Mohenjodaro, Krrish, Makkhi and Maghadeera have used computer-generated animals in the film.

“In view of the above, it is advisable that the effective methods such as Computer Generated Graphics (CGI), Visual Effects (VFX), and animatronics should be prioritised instead of involving live animals. in films/ad-films etc. in order to prevent unnecessary pain and suffering to animals during exhibition and training.”

Page last updated on 15/06/22