Disturbing images help keep charity in the public eye

Click to follow
The Independent Online
IMAGES of maimed and distressed animals rarely go down well over the breakfast table. But in the past five years they have helped establish the RSPCA as Britain's leading animal charity.

Nutcracker, the four-month-old foal whose horribly disfigured nose appears this week in newspaper advertisements, is only the latest animal whose sufferings have been put to effective use. The RSPCA decided to employ the shocking picture as part of its campaign for tougher sentences for cruelty. The charity already has a reputation for controversial advertising.

Four years ago, a full-page photograph of a pile of dead dogs caused a furore. The advertisement was intended to raise awareness of the effects of the Government's decision to end the dog licence.

In 1990, a picture of a pony apparently skewered by a meat hook also caused a row. It was intended to draw attention to the export of horses for slaughter in Spain. The advertisement was withdrawn after being severely criticised by the Advertising Standards Authority.

Jerry Lloyd, campaigns director of the RSPCA, defends the use of shocking pictures. 'Our advertising has been tough and assertive, even perhaps aggressive - but that is because we are talking about unpleasant matters,' he said.

'The object is to put an issue on to the agenda, whether it is whaling, bullfighting or keeping a dog in an overheated car. We are usually successful.'

The tactic certainly appears to have worked in terms of raising the RSPCA's profile among the general public. Asked to name a charity - any charity - nearly half a sample of people stopped on the street would think of the RSPCA.

By a small margin, it is Britain's best-known charity. Market research also shows that the RSPCA has a clear lead over other animal charities in the public recognition stakes. Asked to name an animal charity, 80 per cent of people would name the RSPCA and only 20 per cent the PDSA, the charity's closest rival, the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals.

A controversial image has done the charity no harm in financial terms. The RSPCA is Britain's 11th biggest charity, according to the latest figures. In 1991, it earned pounds 27m in legacies and donations, nearly twice the sum raised by the PDSA.

At an estimated pounds 1.1m - more than 3 per cent of its income - the charity's advertising budget is also higher than most. 'We would not use a picture that we thought was beyond the pale,' Sarah King, account director at Abbot, Mead Vickers, the advertising agency, said. 'There is a limit to public taste and we stick by that.'

----------------------------------------------------------------- How much do the big charities spend on advertising? ----------------------------------------------------------------- Charity Total voluntary Total advertising % * income 1991 spend 1991 1 National Trust pounds 63m pounds 62,000 0.1% 2 Oxfam pounds 51.5m pounds 394,000 0.8% 3 RNLI pounds 46.6 pounds 68,000 0.2% 4 Imperial Cancer RF pounds 44.1 pounds 510,000 1.2% 5 Cancer Research Cmpn pounds 40.2 pounds 587,000 1.5% 11 RSPCA pounds 27.3 pounds 1 million 3.7% ----------------------------------------------------------------- * Press, radio and TV advertising only. Source: Meal Quarterly/Charities Aid Foundation -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)