Should the Barnardo’s Silver Spoon advertisement campaign have been banned?

Last Updated: 20 Apr 2022
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A study of an advertising campaign and the ethical issues involved. Media influence refers to the impact of mass media, it has the ability to shape our society's way of thinking and it has the power to send a strong and influential message to its audience. Advertising media is a form of communication whose purpose is to promote a particular product or service. The message that these adverts send off are not always positive so therefore, certain regulatory authorities are there to counteract this negative influence.

In the UK, the content of advertisements are regulated by the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) and they have the authority to ban any adverts that are harmful, misleading or offensive. In winter 2003, Barnardo's launched their "Silver spoons" campaign against poverty but within three months, the campaign was banned. Barnardo's is a British Charity found by Thomas John Barnardo in 1866. Barnardo's purpose is to care for the abused, the vulnerable, the forgotten and the neglected. They believe that every child deserves to be given an opportunity to fulfil their potential and live a worthwhile, blissful life.

The purpose of Barnardo's "Silver Spoon" campaign was to draw attention to child poverty and hopefully be able to raise a significant amount to eliminate child poverty. They used shocking images of new born babies, hoping to shock the target audience into donating to their charity. The reason Barnardo's felt it was necessary to produce such controversial adverts was because of a poll they carried out, 86% of people questioned did not realise that one in three of the UK's children are born into poverty. Barnardo's felt that actions had to be taken to raise awareness of this fact.

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The advertisements feature a cockroach, a bottle of methylated spirit and a syringe protruding from the babies' mouths. The babies in the first three adverts look distressed and alongside the images is text explaining the situation of child poverty in the UK. One of the images features a new born baby named Mary, very yellow in colour; entirely covered in body fluid with a half empty syringe forced into her mouth. The yellowness of Mary's skin indicates poor health and infirmity; perhaps she is not fed properly, not cared properly.

The audience learn that this child is born in a hospital because of the hospital band tied onto its wrist. The fact that the baby is still covered in body fluid implies lack of care and nurture. The half empty syringe protruding from Mary's mouth indicates that she has already been doomed to a life of drug abuse, immediately taking away the innocence of the child. Mary is crying shows that she does not want this to happen but "thanks to poverty" this is a future that has been predestined and she alone is powerless to change.

The fact that the baby is in such a vulnerable position, clenching its fist with its arms placed by its side indicates that she is opened up and exposed to the horrors of poverty. The fact that Mary has tilted her head to the side crying reinforces the fact that she is weak and does not want to face the future poverty has destroyed. The main purpose of this shocking image is to trigger curiosity and "shock" the audience into reading the text alongside the image. The text is very skilful and contains a lot of underlying emotion.

Through one small paragraph, we see the presence of numerous literary devices which makes the advert much more persuasive and effective. The headline "There are no silver spoons for children born into poverty" relies on the old English proverb "born with a silver spoon in your mouth" meaning to be born into a life of opportunity and prosperity, assuming the audience would know the meaning of the proverb. Through this we learn that the campaign is targeted at middle aged, middle/upperclassmen, as they are much likely to be the ones who would understand the meaning of the proverb.

This metaphor is used to point out that not every child is fortunate enough to be born with a "silver spoon" and children are not born with equal opportunities. The naming of the child is very effective, not "the baby" but "Baby Mary". This gives the child back its innocence the image has taken away. Naming the child has the effect of making everything appear very genuine and personal. The purpose of this is to make the audience emotionally drawn into the advert and sympathise for the children who are born into poverty. And hopefully, donate to the charity. Baby Mary is three minutes old. Thanks to Poverty she faces a desperate future", already poverty has predetermined her life for her. This emphasizes the impact of poverty, informing the audience what poverty is capable of destroying. Notice that "Poverty" in the text begins with a capital letter; this personifies poverty, as if poverty is a being, a monster that is ready to pounce, to leap, to attack. This is very effective when trying to convey that poverty is going to be responsible for the baby's hopeless future, as personifying poverty tells you that poverty is the one to blame. Poverty is waiting to destroy Mary's hope and ambition and is likely to lead her to a future of drug abuse. " Abstract nouns such as "hope" and "ambition" were used, "hope" and "ambition" are possessions everyone should have; it is not an object or luxury that only some could afford. It is something that everyone deserves, you do not have to be wealthy to have hope and you certainly don't need wealth to be ambitious! By telling the audience that poverty has stolen these away from a newborn child emphasizes the power of poverty by illustrating what poverty is capable of doing.

However, this can be very misleading as it gives the audience a negative impression of what it means to be poor. Within three months, the ASA received around five hundred complaints about the content of the adverts being very misleading and offensive. In December 2003, the campaign was withdrawn. In response to the numerous complaints made against the first three adverts, Barnardo's released a less offensive and less controversial advert, but equally hard hitting and effective. The new advert features a new born child, with a silver spoon placed in its mouth.

This refers to the same proverb as the past three adverts, "born with a silver spoon in your mouth", thus makes association and reminds the audience of the previous ads. The shining silver spoon carefully placed in this baby's mouth juxtaposes the dangerous, unpleasant objects forced in the other babies' mouths. This makes the audience stop, wait and think about the message of the ads. The silver spoon signifies a life of opportunity and prosperity. The use of high key lighting, baby bathed in golden light, signifies wealth and power and also an environment of peace and serenity.

Baby sleeping on a cushion-like surface signifies a comfortable and easy life. This is very different to the previous adverts, where the babies were left on plain white blanket. The fact that this baby's eyes are placid and wide open suggests that it's looking forward to its bright future. Whereas, the babies in the other adverts looks distressed and not at ease. The audience sees this baby from a birds eye view; this suggests that there is someone watching over, like a parent nurturing a child. This signifies the warmth and love the babies in the previous adverts did not appear to have.

The pictures of the babies in the previous adverts were taken from an angle looking at the baby from the side; this signifies lack of care and abundance. The headline "If only every child was born with a silver spoon" is the objective Barnardo's is trying to achieve. To make sure that every child gets "the best start in life, and the chance to fulfil their potential". The repetition of the phrase "if only" emphasizes the fact that Barnardo's objective has not yet been accomplished and is significant because it signifies that something can be done to make this happen.

The silver spoons campaign was designed to reduce the impact of poverty on children to the minimum. The adverts are trying to convey that "children born in poverty are more likely to suffer ill-health, be unemployed or homeless and to become involved in offending, drug, and alcohol abuse and abusive relationships in adulthood. " The reason Barnardo's felt it was necessary to produce such controversial adverts was because of a poll they carried out, 86% of people questioned did not realise that one in three of the UK's children are born into poverty. Barnardo's felt that actions had to be taken to raise awareness of this fact.

The morning the first adverts were released, the ASA received 92 complaints and immediately launched an urgent investigation. Many felt that the images of the adverts were very shocking and offensive because it gives the public a false impression of what it's like being poor. The adverts showing poverty, portrays a child who lacks care and support. Parents who are poor can still love and care for their child, being poor does not mean that you do not care about your child. One of the reasons why individuals found this advert so offensive was because it was stereotyping the poor.

However, statistics show that children who are born in poverty are more likely to under perform in school and live in a high crime-rate area. So therefore they are more likely be victims of crime or associate with criminals. Although this is proven correct by statistics, it is more like a fact the certain individuals find hard to accept and want to forget about. The purpose of these shocking images is to force those people back to reality and compel them to do something about it. After three months since the ad's first release, it was banned by the ASA.

This campaign cost one million pounds, but only lasted three months. There are many arguments against the ban, one of them being that the advert has been very successful in informing the public about child poverty. "People are now more aware that child poverty exists in the UK and are aware it is the biggest threat to childhood. " The numbers of donations received through the Barnardo's website are six times higher than usual. This shows that the advert was very effective and helped to make a real difference by improving the lives of children living in poverty.

The advert has met the demands of being honest, truthful and legal. It has been tested with an agency affliated with the ASA before being released, and was passed. This indicates that the ad did not violate any laws or legislations, therefore it was considered appropriate for the public's viewing. This means that the main reason why it was banned was because certain individuals found the advert's pessimistic nature very disturbing and offensive. The fact that these adverts were released just before Christmas 2003 may be one of the reasons why people refused to accept it.

Christmas is the time of year where people over indulge and so they often don't want to think about the existence of poverty because it makes them feel guilty spending so much money on things they often do not need. They do not want to be pestered by their own guilt, so therefore they prefer to ignore reality. To conclude, I think that the Barnardo's first three adverts should not have been banned. This is because the media today constantly reports poverty in third world countries that it shapes us into thinking that poverty only exists there and not here.

The number of people in poverty in this country is very high and is extremely shocking because the UK is one of the most well developed countries in the world, yet many people are so poor. Research shows that one in every three children in the UK are born into poverty, but 86% of those questioned were unaware of this fact. This means that an advert that is powerful, shocking and grasping like Barnardo's "Silver spoons" is necessary to inform the public about the situation of child poverty in the UK and what we could do to help.

I think that the adverts should not be banned because its effective in capturing attention and persuade people to donate. The ad successfully helped to make a difference by increasing the number of donations and thus improving the lives of children living in poverty. However, I cannot force myself to agree that a child who is born into poverty would definitely lead a life of extreme acoholism, drugs and squalor. I think that it really is down to the influence of parents, teachers and peers to shape a child's mind and future and not their family's financial status.

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Should the Barnardo’s Silver Spoon advertisement campaign have been banned?. (2017, Oct 20). Retrieved from

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