Recently, it was Johnson & Johnson (J&J) that got into trouble over dogs and cockatoos. Now it is the turn of State Bank of India (SBI).
Over a chicken.
The government’s Animal Welfare Board of India has demanded that the public sector bank pull its widely shown new television commercial that uses a chicken laying golden eggs to sell the benefits of a new SBI credit card.
According to the board, the producers of the advertisement failed to take necessary permissions that are a pre-requisite in India for using live animals in commercials.
To complicate matters for SBI, animal activists are alleging that the bank has not pulled the ad after promising to do so in a 7 November letter written by Roopam Asthana, chief executive of SBI Cards, which is the country’s second largest credit card issuer.
“The commercial is still on air, I saw it on TV yesterday. They (SBI Card) are liable for legal action,” maintains Maneka Gandhi, a member of Parliament and chairperson of People for Animals, a not-for-profit organization, in a Wednesday interview.
The board has written to Sudhir Makhija, a partner at Doctor Films, the firm that shot the ad, and JWT, the agency behind the commercial, asking them to stop airing it immediately as they and their client SBI had not obtained the mandatory no-objection certificate from the board. The board has also sent a copy of this notice to the Advertising Standards Council of India.
The board’s move came after People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), India, a not-for-profit organization fighting for animal rights, complained about seeming cruelty to the chicken in shooting the ad.
The commercial features a chicken going up an escalator railing, travelling on a motorcycle, being stuffed inside a letter box and thrown on a poolside table.
“The usage of the chicken in this ad is very cruel,” insists Anuradha Sawhney, chief functionary of Peta, India. “It is obvious that the chicken would never have done any of these stunts willingly. The feet of the chicken were possibly glued on the escalator railing to prevent it from jumping off the moving railing. Besides, its wings may have been clipped together so the chicken would not flap them...,” she said.
It is yet unclear if all this really happened to the chicken that was used in the shoot.
But in a letter dated 7 November, SBI Cards’ Asthana had assured Peta, India, that the commercial would be taken off air. “As a gesture of goodwill, and given our respect for the two organizations, Peta and the Animal Welfare Board of India, SBI Cards has decided to withdraw the telecast of the TV commercial,” he wrote.
SBI now says it was the responsibility of the producers to obtain the no-objection certificate. “SBI Cards has worked with reputed agencies, JWT (the advertising agency) and Doctor Films (the producer) on the ‘Golden Eggs’ TV commercial, who are responsible for getting all necessary approvals from concerned authorities for the production and filming of this commercial. Given their impeccable record in the past, we are confident that they would have adhered to all regulations and guidelines as required,” SBI said in an emailed response sent to Mint by its public relations agency, Corporate Voice Weber Shandwick.
Makhija confirms he received the notice from the board on 7 November itself. “In a couple of days, I will be able to respond,” he told Mint.
This isn’t the first time that the board has gone after big firms and advertisers for using animals in commercials without its explicit approval.
An ad by Hutch Essar Ltd (now Vodafone Essar Ltd) in 2004, which used a parakeet to promote horoscope services, was withdrawn following the board’s complaint.
And Mint had reported on 6 July that J&J and Classics Films were hauled up by the board for using a dog, two sparrows and three cockatoos in an ad for Savlon soap amid allegations that a forged no-objection certificate was used in order to complete the ad.
Under the Performing Animals ?(Registration)? Rules, 2001, it is mandatory for all companies to pay Rs500 and secure a no-objection certificate from the board prior to using live animals in an advertisement.