Misleading: RSPCA’s ‘kindness’ ads greenwash charity’s treatment of farm animals

The RSPCA’s recent billboard, online and TV ads display the slogan “Every animal deserves our kindness” and feature cows, dogs, cats and bees singing to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”. Images of animals being cared for, released into their natural environments and running in open green fields emphasise the RSPCA’s mission to protect all animals – an impression strengthened by voiceover by well known nature advocate Chris Packham.

The campaign, made by agency AMV BBDO, marks the RSPCA’s celebration of 200 years as the nation’s foremost voice for the protection of animals. In the ad, footage of a person donating to an RSPCA coin donation holder implies that support from individuals is central to this mission, and promotes this type of support.

However, the ads omit any information about the RSPCA’s formal certification of farming methods that systematically expose farm animals to cruelty, harm and slaughter through its wholly owned RSPCA Assured scheme, in breach of advertising Codes that aim to protect citizens from being misled.

The video advert‘s representation of farm animals includes piglets, chickens and calves being hand-fed, cartoon chickens fleeing barns and cows running in green fields. The ad’s strong suggestion is that the RSPCA’s mission and activities regarding farm animals is to protect, respect and care for them – even to free them from industrial farming.

This is misleading, since the RSPCA formally approves large-scale animal farming and slaughter, including methods such as macerating male chicks, gassing pigs, and factory farming which most people in the UK (78%) are strongly opposed to.

Above: cartoon chickens are depicted running joyously away from barns in the RSPCA video ad. The RSPCA certifies several intensive chicken farms, which house >40,000 chickens per shed.

Conditions on RSPCA farms have also repeatedly been found to expose animals to shocking violence and harm. Despite repeated instances of cruelty, including chickens being stamped on, kicked and kept in ‘horrific’ conditions, pigs kicked, hit with blunt instruments and left dead for days, and salmon riddled with parasites and disease, the RSPCA upholds the scheme. Our complaint to the ASA details in full the ways in which the RSPCA adverts mislead.

Advertising upholds farming systems many of us aren’t comfortable with.
In our report, The Cows Aren’t Laughing, we spotlight the under-recognised role that advertising plays in upholding farming systems that embed cruelty to animals on an enormous scale, as well as hiding the climate and biodiversity impacts of animal farming. We make the case that advertising for factory farmed meat in particular should be restricted.

Billboard ads are everywhere, normalising our overconsumption of meat, dairy and eggs. Saturation of public spaces, TV and online platforms with ads for burgers, yogurt, chicken wings and more drown out any concerns we might have over the conditions in which the vast number of animals required to meet demand for these products are kept. Ads for ‘happy eggs’ hide how chickens are treated, while public money even goes towards promoting dairy products using imagery of green, lush fields and free-roaming cows, when one in five dairy cows never go outdoors.

In this case, our foremost concern is that the RSPCA’s marketing misrepresents the RSPCA’s mission and activities. By certifying mass rearing and slaughter of animals for people to eat, including on farms with horrific conditions, the RSPCA’s activities are very far from the impression of protection “for every kind” of animal emphasised by the adverts. This risks misleading citizens including those who may choose to support, or continue to support, the RSPCA through donations.

We are also concerned about how the ads might impact what we choose to buy. Since the ads strongly connect the RSPCA’s brand to kindness and respect to animals, seeing the RSPCA’s logo on meat, dairy and eggs may alter purchasing choices through this association, risking perpetuating the mass scale farming of animals through building associative connections via the RSPCA’s animal-friendly marketing. Underlining this point, 48% of participants in a UK poll said that the RSPCA Assured label on egg boxes makes them feel more confident about where their eggs have come from and better about their choices.

We are aware that the RSPCA is a well-loved charity and we respect its work to protect domestic pets and wildlife. We feel that given the RSPCA’s support to industrial scale farming in return for funding, its adverts are misleading. If you have concerns or feedback, please do contact us at hello[at]adfreecities.org.uk. If you would like to report RSPCA’s adverts to the regulator, you can make a complaint.

Above: still from the RSPCA’s online #ForEveryKind advert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6Va1u5OMqY
Above: RSPCA ‘For every kind’ advert at Bath railway station, May 2024.
Filming revealed pigs beaten to death with blunt instruments on RSPCA Assured farms: The Independent

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