An ad for bookmakers Paddy Power in which a cat is kicked across a football pitch by blind players will remain on screen despite more than 1,000 complaints, a watchdog said today.
The television ad opens with a shot of a kitbag marked Blind Wanderers FC and two teams of blindfolded men in the middle of a game. A cat is shown running on to the pitch before a player takes a kick, followed by the sound of a thud and a loud meow.
A man in a suit appears on the pitch and says: "Paddy Power can't get Tiddles back, there's nothing we can do about that, but we can get you your money back with our money-back specials."
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said 1,089 viewers complained about the ad in total, with 220 complaints that it was offensive to blind people and 1,070 claims it could encourage or condone cruelty to animals. Some viewers complained about both issues.
Paddy Power said the ad featured an action that was "so unlikely that it was absurd".
They said they chose a blind football match as it enabled them to promote and create awareness of a lesser-known sport in the year in which the World Blind Football Championships were to take place.
The company provided a letter from the manager of the England Blind Football Team, who supported the ad's concept and stated that all the players featured were actual blind football players, many of whom had represented the national side.
It said the ad did not show the cat being kicked or suffering any violence or cruelty and was clearly and deliberately shown to be unharmed at the end of the item.
The ASA did not uphold the complaints, saying it was not offensive or disrespectful in itself to create an ad referring to or involving people with a disability.
It said: "We noted that the ad featured and was supported by members of the England Blind Football Team, and showed blind people enjoying a game of football.
"We considered that the action in the ad would be interpreted by most viewers as a humorous depiction of a fictional situation, with the humour derived from the surreal and improbable circumstances, when an unforeseeable and accidental action occurred.
"We considered it was unlikely to be seen by most viewers as malicious or to imply that blind people were likely to cause harm to animals whilst playing football.
"We therefore concluded that the ad was unlikely to be seen as humiliating, stigmatising or undermining to blind people and was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence."