A British anti-smoking ad, described by some as “revoltingly graphic,” has managed to stay on the airwaves and even affect smokers.
The minute-long ad, called “Artery,” shows people in a bar drinking and smoking. The cigarettes, however, drip a fatty substance instead of ash in order to visualize how smoking can clog one’s arteries with fatty globules.
The real kicker comes when the ad cuts to a close-up of a lab technician squeezing a fatty substance out of what appears to be a real artery into a Petri dish.
“This much was found in the artery of a 32-year-old smoker,” says a narrator as the fatty substance oozes from the artery into the dish.
The ad is sponsored by the British Heart Foundation, which launched a 4-million-pound anti-smoking campaign at the beginning of the year. Most of the money has come from the U.K. Department of Health, which gave the foundation several million pounds to conduct anti-smoking efforts, according to a press release about the campaign.
The ad actually began airing Jan. 1, hoping to target smokers as they were resolving to quit.
AdAge.com, the Web site for the flagship publication Advertising Age, lists the ad in its “current TV commercials of note.”
“Those Brits sure know how to drive home a point about the hazards of smoking,” read the AdAge.com synopsis of the advertisement. “This revoltingly graphic spot emphasizing the link between tobacco and heart disease sparked a controversy and calls for the British Office of Communications to ban its broadcast. The agency declined.”
Not only did the ad beat the ban, but AdAge.com reported that Hall & Partners, a communications research agency with offices in London, found that 94 percent of smokers in Britain “were aware of the spot and had been personally affected by it. That makes it one of the most heavily recalled advertisements ever to appear on British TV.”
During the ad, the narrator says: “Every cigarette we smoke makes this fatty stuff get stuck in our arteries. Our hearts don’t work properly if our hearts are all clogged up.”
The ad ends with a title card that includes a catch-phrase (“We’ll help you give up before you clog up completely”) and the logo, Web site and phone number for the British Heart Foundation.
The BHF has produced controversial ads before. In 2002, as the Guardian reported, the BHF ran newspaper ads depicting a woman with a clear plastic bag wrapped tightly around her head. The ad was part of a campaign to raise awareness about heart failure.
The U.K. Advertising Standards Authority banned the ad after receiving several hundred complaints, most of which feared the image might cause more suffocation incidents among children.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
The TV ad is here.