Advertising watchdog rejects complaints about advert featuring Santa with dementia

The Advertising Standards Authority finds the Alzheimer's Research UK advert handled the subject matter sensitively and was broadcast when younger children would not be watching

The Advertising Standards Authority has rejected dozens of complaints about an advertisement from Alzheimer’s Research UK in which Santa is portrayed as having dementia.

The animated television advert, called Santa Forgot, features a young girl being told that Santa has stopped delivering presents because he has developed the disease.

She travels to see Santa’s elves and sets them to work on a cure, before going to visit Santa and telling him she believes in him.

The advertising watchdog said it had received 36 complaints about the advertisement, which said it was offensive and could cause distress to children, and questioned whether it was suitable to be broadcast at times when it could be seen by children.

The advert had been cleared for broadcast by the advertisement clearance body Clearcast, which said should not be shown when children could be watching.

The charity decided to show the advert only in slots at 7:30pm or later, with one exception: it was broadcast at 7:13pm during an advertisement break in the soap series Emmerdale while the latter was tackling a dementia storyline involving a main character.

The charity said development work for the advert had included research with the public and consultation with the families of those affected by dementia. It said it wanted to create an advert that would help those unaffected by the condition to understand its nature and recognise the need for research, while being sensitive to those who have been affected by the disease.

It told the ASA that research it had carried out with 1,000 adults found that 76 per cent thought the idea of showing Santa with Alzheimer’s for an awareness campaign was acceptable, with 73 per cent of parents sharing that view.

Alzheimer’s Research UK said the advert had received tens of thousands of positive responses, shares and supportive comment on social media and significantly less than 1 per cent of responses expressed doubts about the approach.

In its ruling rejecting the complaints, published today, the ASA said that although some might find the subject matter upsetting and the advert had the potential to cause discomfort to younger children, the topic had been handled sensitively and the story was told in a gentle way and had a generally positive ending.

It found that putting a restriction on when the advert could be shown was appropriate and did not consider that the scenes shown would demand stricter scheduling restrictions or a warning before the advert was shown.

Tim Parry, director of communications and brand at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: "When we set out to create Santa Forgot, our aim was to raise awareness that the diseases that cause dementia strike indiscriminately.

"If we are to fight the misconceptions about dementia that still persist in society, we have to challenge them head-on. But we also took care to tell this story in a respectful and sensitive way, and we are very pleased that the Advertising Standards Authority agreed that we had achieved this.

"The underlying message of Santa Forgot is that something can be done to defeat dementia and research holds the answer. Overall, the campaign had an overwhelmingly positive response from the public and we are confident that the advert had the right balance of poignancy and hope for the future."

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