ASA bans Waitrose ad for telling porkies about pig welfare

Waitrose has made so much play of its ethical principles in recent years, to great commercial success of course , that it comes as a bit of a shock to find it rapped by the Advertising Standards Authority for making misleading claims about the welfare of the pigs used for the retailer’s pork.

It’s rather like the local vicar being found in a brothel or a refined lady magistrate being done for shoplifting.

The attendant piquancy is reinforced by the fact that the offending advertising was a commercial from its latest TV campaign featuring the slightly mad chemo-chef Heston Blumenthal and the Home Counties favourite TV cook, the divine Delia Smith.

As often in these cases, the issue boiled down to semantic squabbles, one area where agencies could give even the sharpest lawyers a run for their money.

The commercial showed pigs resting in a field on a bed of straw with Heston discussing the merits of “outdoor bred” pork. The complainants ( any of them connected to another retailer by chance?) pointed out that the pigs are born outdoors but after several weeks transferred to be reared indoors, and suggested that the ad implied the porkers spent the rest of their lives gambolling about in the field.

It’s all a bit “how many angels can dance on a pinhead” but with the ASA finding against Waitrose and banning the ad, the retailer needs to look to its reputation and make sure it doesn't happen again. With most retailers it wouldn’t matter but Waitrose’s s upmarket, concerned customers are precisely the kind of people who take animal welfare and commitments to British farming seriously.

Waitrose has to live up to its claims or brand damage will ensue.

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About David O'Reilly

David is a former deputy editor of Campaign and writer for a number of leading titles including Management Today and the Sunday Times. He is a partner in The Editorial Partnership.