PETA’s ‘degrading’ portrayal of woman as a trapped dog okay, says ad watchdog

The Advertising Standards Board has dismissed complaints about a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) ad featuring a woman portraying a dog stuck in a hot car, saying advertisers can use “whomever they wish” in their promotions and arguing gender, in this instance, is irrelevant.


Complaints said the ad was “offensive”, “sexist” and “degrading”

Originally launched in 2012 for PETA UK, the ad features Italian model Elisabetta Canalis, pretending to be a dog who is stuck in a hot car, eventually dying of heatstroke.

The ad sees Canalis search for water, try to unlock the car door, and shake and kick the door before losing consciousness. The spot ends with the words “Dogs can suffer form heatstroke and die in a matter of minutes when left in a car on a warm day. Leave your dog at home.”

Complainants argued the ad was offensive as it was “sexist” and “degrading,” and equated the distressed woman to a dog.

“Portrayal of a woman suffering as an imprisoned dog is offensive,” another complainant said.

PETA responded to each complaint with an explanation of what the ad aimed to achieve and an assessment of whether it breached the AANA’s Code of Ethics.

“We note that the complaints received object to PETA’s use of a human to convey the distress experienced by dogs left to suffer and die in hot cars. At the outset, we would emphasise that the sole purpose of the advertisement is to raise awareness of the dangers of leaving dogs inside hot cars,” PETA said.


The organisation also said the woman was not depicted a certain way based on her gender, the ad did not depict violence, the ad was aired late to avoid distress for younger audiences and that it had no depiction of sex.

PETA described the complaints as “without merit.”

The ASB considered whether the ad vilified the woman based on her race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, sexual preference, religion, disability, mental illness or political belief.

In the ruling, the Board said it had recognised the woman and her behaviour was intended to “represent the equivalent distress experienced by a dog left locked inside a hot car” and that there was “no suggestion that the woman is herself equivalent to a dog or that she is trapped in a car because of her gender”.

The ad watchdog continued: “The Board noted that advertisers can use whomever they wish in their advertisements and considered that in this instance the use of a woman, and not a man, to represent a dog is not of itself discriminatory or vilifying to this, or any other, woman.”

A final decision by the Board said the ad did not employ sexual appeal, it did not vilify the woman, nor were her shorts and singlet inappropriate.

While the Board  also considered concerns the woman was being tortured, it decided the level of distress was not “excessive” and was “relevant in the context of the advertising message”.

The most recent complaints are not the first time PETA has caused controversy or offence globally, with unsubtle ads including ‘Grace’ and ‘School Play’ for Thanksgiving – both of which were banned – and Everyday Dogs and Boyfriend Went Vegan.


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