20 May 2019
Eu Yan Sang is revising a TV commercial after its message failed to come through clearly, at least for some animal lovers. Credit: Eu Yan Sang
Eu Yan Sang is revising a TV commercial after its message failed to come through clearly, at least for some animal lovers. Credit: Eu Yan Sang

Are animal rights activists overreacting to Eu Yan Sang ad?

Traditional Chinese medicine company Eu Yan Sang aired its latest TV commercial Monday night, triggering instant controversy. Animal lovers have complained that the ad demonizes mongrels, and demanded that the company pull out the ad immediately.

The commercial, which lasts around 46 seconds, aims to sell the theme of benevolence (the Chinese meaning of the word ‘Yan’ in Eu Yan Sang).

It begins with a visual showing an angry black mongrel growling and baring its teeth at a man. The man is seen holding up a large broken tree branch, aiming to get back at the dog.

The storyline then goes backward and shows the man’s son crying and bleeding, as the child hurt himself after he was chased by the dog. The father was so mad that he ran after the dog, not just to drive it away but to beat or even kill the animal.

The man and the dog finally confront each other on a meadow. At the instance when the father was apparently preparing to strike the dog, the little boy comes over, stands in front of the dog and protects the animal with his body.

The senior then softens, realizing that he may have been too cruel to the dog. He puts down his weapon at last. Then the message “Compassion is in children’s heart” comes up on the screen, marking the end of the ad.

Animal lovers, however, took serious offence, pointing out that the ad implies that the dog had harmed the child.

Mark Mak, president of the non-profit Veterinary Service Society, lambasted the commercial via Facebook posts, saying it demonizes mongrels. The ad may give the public a wrong impression on mixed breed dogs, as being fierce and cruel, he wrote. 

“This is absolutely a PR disaster for the company. The creative team didn’t realize that there is a large population of animal lovers in the society,” Mak wrote. “Dogs won’t bite for no reason, usually they would bite only when they want to protect their owners, territory or food.”

“The ad is stereotyping the black mongrels. I was in the advertising industry before; this ad gets zero marks. I have already complained to the Broadcast Authority, and hope others will do the same.”

Rebecca Ngan, the founder of Mongrel Club, said the club had devoted a lot of time to educate the public that mixed-breed dogs do not mean dogs with bad behavior. The animals are not aggressive and they won’t attack humans easily if they are groomed properly, she said.

The club’s members train lots of mongrels, so that the animals can contribute to society by visiting vulnerable groups such as the elderly and the handicapped, bringing happiness to them.

However, the Eu Yan Sang ad has just eroded all their efforts, Ngan said in a statement.

Some netizens even said they will boycott Eu Yan Sang because of this ad.

Now, the question arises: Are animal lovers overreacting a bit?

It is understandable that people seek to defend the animals’ rights, given that the creatures can’t speak for themselves. And it is perhaps true that mongrels are not any more aggressive than other dogs.

But animal rights activists have to understand that dogs, including mongrels, have different personalities, just like people — some are annoying while others are not. So, sometimes, some dogs can be aggressive, even though they won’t bite easily. Showing a fierce-looking dog doesn’t necessarily mean that the animal is being demonized.

Animal rights supporters also need to admit that some people just don’t like dogs, or may even be afraid of the animals.

The focus of the critics is also somewhat misplaced. The whole point of the ad was to show that the father has finally realized it is not right to treat the dog in a cruel way, which is still a positive message to convey.

While the debate is set to continue, Eu Yan Sang has however acknowledged that its ad may have left scope for misinterpretation.

The company issued a statement yesterday that the ad will be revised to make the message clearer.

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EJ Insight writer

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