ASA considers investigating ‘misleading’ Simplyhealth portrayal of treatment for deafness

Brand disregarded advice from charity partner National Deaf Children’s Society on depiction of childhood deafness and cochlear implants.

The advertising watchdog is considering whether to investigate a Simplyhealth ad that representatives of the deaf community say gives a misleading impression of the impact of a cochlear implant on a person’s hearing.

The spot, “All together healthier”, was created by McCann Bristol and depicts people in a neighbourhood taking part in various fundraising activities under the banner “Fund 4 Ferris”. At the end of the ad a young deaf boy, Ferris, has a hearing aid switched on, and is able to hear his mother’s voice for the first time, prompting an emotional reaction from her.

The Advertising Standards Authority has received 35 complaints, 33 of which suggested the ad was misleading because it failed to depict the lengthy process involved in first receiving a cochlear implant, and then growing accustomed to using it to hear – as well as the varied results of cochlear implants, which do not always result in the restoration of full hearing.

Twenty of the complaints also said it was irresponsible because it could create a false sense of hope for parents of deaf children.

The ad has also provoked an angry response on social media, with critics additionally calling out the depiction of deafness as a “health problem” and something to be “fixed”, and the casting of a hearing child to play a deaf character.

— Louise Deaf Awareness ?? (@LouiseDeafAware) September 29, 2020

In a response to Campaign, Simplyhealth pointed to a statement it had issued at the start of the campaign providing context on the story of the ad, in which it said it took “great care to ensure that the story represented an authentic experience”.

On the casting of Ferris, Simplyhealth said it “worked hard to meet deaf and hard-of-hearing actors and ran auditions”, but “our final decision was based on our duty-of-care for the wellbeing of the children, including the complexities of Covid-19 restrictions”. The brand argued it had been open about the casting decision on both its website and on social media.

Simplyhealth added that it had “continued to seek and act on the advice of several charities who support people with more serious auditory conditions”.

However, one of the two charities listed on Simplyhealth’s website as an auditory charity partner, National Deaf Children’s Society, said that while it was consulted on the production of the ad, its recommendations were not taken on board.

In response to a tweet asking whether it endorsed the ad, NDCS said that Simplyhealth had made a donation to it and asked it to review the ad during production.

“One of our experts did so, and raised a number of concerns about how it portrayed childhood deafness and the unrealistic portrayal of cochlear implants,” NDCS wrote. “We made a number of recommendations about how to change the advert, and are disappointed that these changes were not made.”

NDCS told Campaign it had not had any further discussions with Simplyhealth about the ad.

When asked to respond to the comments from NDCS, Simplyhealth added: "We worked with a number of experts and specialist charities on a goodwill basis, for which we are incredibly grateful, and we also drew on a range of case studies.

"This gave us a broad base of opinion and feedback from which we sought to find an aligned and common approach and, using this input, we made informed and significant adaptations to our advertisement."

Simplyhealth said the ad had finished running over the weekend (10-11 October) and it would now “continue to listen, learn and respond” to feedback.

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