The RBS advert for a new credit card links a computerised graphic of a donkey to the word “dumb” in the slogan “For every clever thing in the world, there’s a dumb one to balance it out”.
The society’s chairman, Professor Derek Knottenbelt, said: “Would Mary and Joseph have made it to the inn if they had not had a donkey?
“The image of the donkey being a dunce is not only wrong, it is also misleading and cruel. It perpetuates the concept that the donkey feels no pain and suffers no discomfort under any conditions. Nothing is further from the truth. He just accepts what we do to him and trusts that it is right. It is his trust in us that’s questionable.”
The society has called on RBS to withdraw the advert and said Knottenbelt would be writing to invite the bank’s chief executive, Sir Frederick Goodwin, to visit one of its projects “so that he can see for himself how important this ‘dumb’ animal is to the lives of millions of people”.
Knottenbelt also pointed out that Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson “wept with sadness” after he was parted from his donkey, Modestine, at the end of a 12-day trek through the Cévennes region of France.
“Notwithstanding his inveterate obstinacy, the donkey is an excellent companion and a very hard worker,” he said. “This willingness to serve is often, quite wrongly, taken as an indication of stupidity, but the donkey is not dumb in any sense of the word. He is a vocal and intelligent creature.”
A spokesman for RBS said: “In context, the donkey visualised is an animation with sound effect and we would hope that in seeing this advert people are able to distinguish fiction from reality.”