The advert, which accompanied online blogs, asked: “How do you feel about … Employing Romanians when they arrive in Britain in 2014? Romania: the most depraved country on earth?”
Produced by communications agency Richard Thoburn, the advert – linked to an online petition against Romanian government action against stray dogs – also questioned how viewers felt about holidaying in Romania or buying Romanian products.
Three people complained the advert was xenophobic, promoted hatred towards Romania and could spark anti-immigration sentiment. The advert was irresponsible and likely to cause widespread offence, they argued.
Promoted hatred towards Romania
Richard Thoburn claimed the advert was intended to highlight the damage done to the country by its allegedly cruel and inhumane treatment of dogs. Appealing to the compassion of Romanians had proved unsuccessful, the firm argued. So, it wanted to appeal to their self-interest. The advert sought to suggest the animal welfare standards of the Romanian government might make people less likely to employ Romanians, buy Romanian products or travel to the country.
But the ASA upheld the complaint, ruling that the advert must not appear again in its current form. “We told Richard Thoburn to ensure that future ads were not likely to cause serious or widespread offence, and to take particular care if referring to the actions of specific countries.”
The authority noted the advert had appeared on political blogs, and that the readers of such blogs might expect to see more provocative ad content. But the advertisers had a responsibility to ensure their adverts were not likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
“We considered that the content of the advert linked the Romanian people to the mistreatment or killing of dogs and implied that those who saw it should reconsider holidaying in Romania, buying Romanian products or employing Romanians, for that reason,” it said.
While it was legitimate to criticise the actions of a government, ruled the advertising watchdog, criticising a country’s people, or a country in general, risked being seen as xenophobic and therefore causing serious or widespread offence.
‘Romania the most depraved country on earth?’
“We considered that the advert, and in particular the statement ‘Romania the most depraved country on earth?’, was likely to be seen as xenophobic and to cause serious and widespread offence to those who saw it. We therefore concluded that the ad breached the [Advertising Standards] Code.”
Meanwhile, food and drink manufacturers who employ temporary workers have been warned about engaging Romanian and Bulgarian workers from unlicensed gangmasters.
The Gangmasters Licensing Authority issued the warning ahead of immigration changes next year, which will make it easier for Romanians and Bulgarians to work here.
In a poll accompanying the article, 41% of FoodManufacture.co.uk readers said immigration controls should be tightened.
Answering the question: Should Romanian and Bulgarian workers be allowed unfettered access to the UK labour market? more than a quarter (27%) agreed that immigrant workers should always be welcomed.
The same percentage said they should be allowed to work here under certain controls, while 5% did not know.