THE national advertising standards watch-dog has reversed its initial decision which found that Meat and Livestock Australia’s latest digital lamb advertising promotion had caused religious offence.
A video commercial released in September as part of MLA’s “You Never Lamb Alone” campaign showed Lord Ganesha’s image and that of other religious figures like Buddha, Jesus, Moses, Aphrodite and Zeus, chatting and eating lamb at a fictional Aussie BBQ.
“So shall we address the elephant in the room?” Buddha says in the video commercial.
Lord Ganesha replies, “Not funny 2500 years ago – not funny now”.
But the internet advert that had over 11 million views sparked offence amongst Hindu leaders and other religious groups who demanded it to be withdrawn.
They also lodged formal complaints to the Australian Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) which focussed on the ‘elephant in the room comment’ and other critical elements of the commercial.
In its first determination, the ASB board said the depiction of a group of characters representing god and other religious, spiritual and iconic figures eating a meal together wasn’t a breach of Section 2.1 of the Code, on account of religion.
“Following considerable discussion the majority of the Board considered that the overall tone of the advertisement is light-hearted and humorous and in their view the intent is to be inclusive in a manner which promotes a harmonious and multi-faith environment,” the ruling said.
But in the latest development in the lab promotion saga, an independent review of the ASB ruling dismissed the original finding and upheld the complaint.
“The Board recognised that the advertiser is known for presenting laid back advertisements with edgy Australian humour,” it said of MLA’s annual lamb campaigns that have also featured former AFL star Sam Kekovich.
“However, the Board considered that the advertiser had given inadequate consideration to how seriously some Australians take their religious views – and did not pay due attention to the level of offence about something important to those people.
“After taking into account the Independent Reviewer’s finding that the Board gave insufficient weight to the views of complainants in regards to the Elephant Comment, the Board determined that the advertisement breached section 2.1 of the Code and upheld complaints.”
The original complaint also said it had issues with the advert trying to say Lord Ganesh was enjoying the meat which was against the Hindu religion.
“Lord Ganesha whom billions of people worship all over the world was shown in a bad taste with meat and along with meat eating people,” it said.
“The deties worshipped by Hindus are vegetarians to show him with meat eating and for promoting meat gives me a lot of pain.
“Living in multicultural country other people faith and interests has to be considered.”
MLA’s formal response to the new determination by the ASB said it “respectfully disagrees” with the review and the Board’s revised decision, and “reiterates that the advertisement was conceived and intended to promote religious inclusiveness in a light hearted and humorous manner”.
“Most critically, it was never the intention of MLA to discriminate against or vilify any religious group - we confirm that the advertisement is no longer being broadcast,” it said.
In a statement, MLA said like previous lamb campaigns, the latest one again sought to bring people together, regardless of beliefs, to share a meal and be unified.
“The gathering was intended as a metaphor for the wonderfully diverse make-up of modern Australia, and there was never any intent to single out any one religion or deity,” it said.
MLA said all of its campaigns – including this latest lamb campaign – were developed with the “positive intent of celebrating the diversity and inclusivity of Australia”.
“MLA is a responsible advertiser and we always act with the intent of adhering to the Advertising Standards Code,” it said.
“While the overwhelming feedback to the campaign has been positive, we acknowledge that some community members have registered concerns and we respect that feedback.
“As with all campaigns that MLA conducts, this feedback as well as this decision from the ASB, will be considered in future creative development.”
MLA said the video content was viewed, however, more than 11,024,000 times and generated significant coverage including 534 pieces of coverage with an estimated 2,212,035,513 opportunities to see (OTS), which exceeded the campaign’s expectations.
The numbers for last year’s spring lamb campaign - according to figures provided by MLA - were 372 pieces of media with an OTS of 166 million and 5.6 million views on YouTube and Facebook.
The new ASB ruling also said the majority of the Board noted that a number of the dieties featured in the MLA advertising had the tenets of their beliefs depicted in a “humourous way”, like Jesus performing a reverse miracle and Aphrodite having many lovers etc.
But Lord Ganesha was the only deity “singled out for his physical characteristics”.
“The majority of the Board also considered that Lord Ganesha had his physical characteristic singled out in the context of a negative reference ‘Elephant in the room’,” the determination said.
“The majority noted from submissions that Lord Ganesha is a diety that signifies perfection so to criticise his appearance would be likely to be seen as ridiculing the Hindu religion and by extension some followers of that faith.
“The majority of the Board therefore considered that the Elephant comment amount to a depiction or portrayal of material which discriminated against a person on account of their Hindu religion.”