Some members of the public feel charity adverts go too far when using distressing imagery, according to research by the Advertising Standards Authority.
The study, Public Perception of Harm and Offence in UK Advertising, was conducted by Ipsos Mori on behalf of the ASA and included a survey of more than 1,200 people, including 540 parents of children under 16. An online survey was also carried out of more than 1,000 children aged from 11 to 16.
Without giving a precise breakdown, the report says "many" participants said they felt that some charity adverts contained offensive content that went too far in seeking to make people feel uncomfortable or guilty, or used imagery that was considered too distressing.
Adverts for international aid charities, animal charities and child protection charities were "frequently" cited as being offensive, often because they portrayed violence or mistreatment.
But the study also found that "some" participants were reluctant to admit they found charity adverts offensive. The report says: "There was a sense that this type of approach is to some extent a necessary evil."
A significant minority said they supported the use of strong imagery to highlight a charity's cause.
Colin Lloyd, chairman of the Fundraising Standards Board, said: "It is clear there is a balance to be struck between the need to build causal awareness and public support and the risk to the reputations of charities from the negative impact of advertising that is felt to be distressing."
Lindsay Gormley, assistant director of marketing at Barnardo’s, defended the right of charities to use distressing imagery. "Barnardo’s has a history of hard-hitting advertising that brings to life in a powerful and emotional way the gravity of the situations faced by the children we work with in more than 800 projects across the UK," she said.
"For the vast majority of viewers the messages are clear, and as a result we see a substantial increase in people wanting to support Barnardo’s work."
Many parents said they were concerned about the charity adverts that appear on children’s TV channels because they were intended to encourage children to get their parents to donate money.