The Heart Foundation has taken an abrupt U-turn on its controversial ads that claimed people who didn’t look after their hearts didn’t love their families.
As reported on B&T yesterday, the ads – the work of creative agency Host/Havas – caused a social media storm when they were revealed on Tuesday, people describing them as “hurtful”, “cruel” and “heartless” and “classic victim blaming”.
Despite calls for the ads to be banned, the Heart Foundation initially defended the spots, the organisation’s CMO, Chris Taylor, telling B&T in a statement that he was “pleased the campaigning is having a positive effect”.
One of the more controversial scenes in the ad had a mother putting her young son to bed and telling him, “Every time I told you I loved you I was lying – you are not my priority.”
Overnight the Heart Foundation announced that the scene would be removed from the campaign.
Check out the ad below, now with deleted scene:
“We apologise if we’ve caused offence to anyone, we appreciate the feedback and we have responded by no longer using the scene where a mother says to a son that she had told him she loved him but that she had lied,” Heart Foundation Victoria chief executive Kellie-Ann Jolly said.
Jolly, whose comments were reported on the ABC news website, still defended the ad’s approach, saying the message remained: “That looking after your heart means you are also looking after the hearts of those who love you.”
She added: “We realise that not everyone will agree with our approach. However, our intention is from a good place, to save lives.”
B&T approached Host/Havas for comment on the ads and the nature of the initial brief.
In a written statement a spokesperson for the agency said: “There is no doubt that this is a very confronting campaign, but if a difficult conversation reminds people what the terrible price of our apathy could be, prompts action, and reduces the huge number of preventable deaths across Australia each year, it’ll have been one worth having.”
Following the social media furore over the ads and the message, a number of prominent health experts weighed-in on the negativity of the campaign and agreed that it was the wrong approach.
Australian of the Year and mental health professor Patrick McGorry tweeted: “So people are to blame for their illness? That’s been precisely the basis for stigma in mental illness and addictions. “Same for suicidal patients in EDs where they are blamed and put to the back of the queue.”
The head of obstetrics at the University of Melbourne and Mercy Hospital, Sue Walker, told ABC Radio Melbourne it was “a little bit reductionist to suggest that people died because they didn’t care for themselves or they didn’t care for others”.
Dr Nigel Stobbs tweeted: “This disgrace has actually been made a pinned tweet. It’s beyond belief that the Board of Directors of the Heart Foundation would have signed off on this campaign. The trauma they are causing to survivors and families is incalculable.”
However, most of the campaign’s fury came from people who’d lost loved ones to heart disease.
One person tweeting: “My father died of a sudden heart attack at age 40 because of exposure to Agent Orange while serving in the military. He literally fell over and died in front of my mom, my nine-year-old sister, and me. How dare you run that ad!”
Another wrote: “Oh wow. I’m a big supporter of the Heart Foundation, but this is all kinds of wrong. My dad is in the final stages of chronic heart failure after a 25 year fight, and this goes down like a lead balloon with me. It really does.
While another added: “This doesn’t make me want to go to the GP. It doesn’t make me want to eat well. It doesn’t make want to jog. It makes me mad. Not at myself or my mum or even heart disease. But at the heart foundation. I will not be donating to you again.”