Vet practices must lead from the front in responsible portrayal of animals in marketing - Veterinary Practice
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Vet practices must lead from the front in responsible portrayal of animals in marketing

The BVA is calling on advertisers as well as veterinary practices to give full thought to the way in which animals are depicted in their marketing and communications in order to encourage responsible pet ownership and positive animal health and welfare outcomes.

Eight in ten vets in the UK (83 percent) say they are concerned about the inappropriate representation of animals in adverts, with dogs, cats and rabbits topping the most-cited species featuring in such “bad-ads”, the BVA Autumn 2018 Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey reveals. More than two in five vets (44 percent) recalled seeing adverts in the past month that featured images of pet animals unable to exhibit normal behaviour, depicted in an unsafe scenario (31 percent) or shown in an unsuitable environment (24 percent), among other concerns.

To help advertising companies and veterinary practices promote positive welfare across a range of companion animal species, BVA has launched an authoritative set of pet advertising guidelines on 4 December 2019 with support from members of the Veterinary Animal Welfare Coalition, comprising the BSAVA, British Veterinary Zoological Society, British Veterinary Nursing Association, Blue Cross, PDSA, RSPCA and the Scottish SPCA.

BVA’s guidelines, “Pets in advertising: A social concern, identifies good practice guidance as well as common mistakes in portraying pets, whether real or cartoon and computer-generated (CGI), across each of the five animal welfare needs set out in the UK Animal Welfare Acts. Thus, brachycephalic dogs, cats or rabbits, teacup animals and rabbits shown individually or housed in tiny hutches would all be examples of imagery that should be avoided, unless it is to raise awareness about the specific health or welfare issue being showcased. The guidelines also encourage vets on set to give thought to the way in which animals are depicted, in addition to the health and welfare of the specific animal in their care, and to raise any concerns with the advertisers.

BVA President Simon Doherty said:

“Just like television or print adverts created by big brands, any inappropriate use of imagery in our client-facing communications also has the potential to normalise hereditary defects, poor welfare, and inappropriate diet and housing, as well as drive demand for certain breeds with physical and behavioural problems that are not always recognised by the public.

“As an animal welfare focused profession, it is paramount that vets and vet nurses take the lead in ensuring clients are presented with visuals that support responsible pet ownership and positive animal health and welfare outcomes.

“It makes business sense too, as it gives veterinary practices an opportunity to enhance brand image, reputation and client loyalty. At BVA, we’ve been reviewing our own marketing and communication materials to remove any inappropriate depictions of animals, and we’d encourage practices to take the opportunity to do likewise.”

The Veterinary Marketing Association (VMA) has announced that it will be adding BVA’s new pet advertising guidelines for consideration across its judging criteria for all future VMA Annual Awards.

VMA chair Jane Manning said:

“The VMA’s mission is to drive excellence in veterinary marketing, and so it is important that we support BVA’s new pet advertising guidelines which will be introduced for consideration across the judging criteria for all entries to our Annual Awards.

“We want to encourage our colleagues working in veterinary marketing to support BVA’s initiative to promote responsible pet ownership and social concern. Our industry is derived from animal ownership, and so it’s our duty of care to ensure that welfare is a priority in the marketing of veterinary products and services.”

BVA’s survey revealed that the most commonly cited adverts, by more than three-quarters of vets, were those that showed pets with exaggerated features or extreme conformation, such as Pugs or Persian cats. BVA’s #BreedtoBreathe campaign this year has highlighted how sustained efforts by the veterinary profession can help, as big brands including Marks & Spencer, HSBC and Lidl have pledged not to use images of flat-faced dogs in ads or on social media in future campaigns.

While BVA is sending out a copy of the guidance to all the big brands it has already engaged with, it is asking vets and vet nurses to contact any brands using animals inappropriately too, to let them know that the veterinary profession is there to help with their decision making. BVA has developed a template letter to aid the profession in reaching out to organisations.

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