The Heart Foundation has pulled a controversial ad campaign that suggested people who do not look after their health do not love their families, following a social media backlash.
The campaign, called Heartless Words, featured a scene in which a mother put her child to bed and said: “Every time I told you I loved you I was lying – you are not my priority”.
The ad, which was launched on Tuesday, was later altered to remove that scene – but the rest of the video remained.
It included lines such as a man telling a gathering “in time this family will be filled with loss. But I won’t care, because I’ll be gone.”
“It’s not just my heart I don’t care about,” a hospital-bound mother told her child in another scene.
The campaign prompted swift backlash on social media, with people calling it “breathtakingly offensive” and “awful”.
In the hours after the launch, Heart Foundation chief executive John Kelly said the campaign was “shocking” but necessary to kick off a conversation about heart disease.
That night, when announcing the scene with the mother and child would be cut, Heart Foundation Victoria chief executive Kellie-Ann Jolly apologised “if we’ve caused offence to anyone”.
‘We have listened’, Heart Foundation says
On Friday, the foundation changed course again and announced the advertisements would no longer run across media or social media.
“To all the people who have been offended by our campaign, we apologise, and to all those who provided their feedback, we have listened,” Heart Foundation board chairman Chris Leptos said.
Heart Foundation chief medical adviser Gary Jennings acknowledged “it’s a very traumatic thing to lose someone to heart disease … and it brought back memories to people.”
“The Heart Foundation has decided to withdraw from this campaign because of the reaction they’ve received from several quarters in the media and in the community that perhaps the call went a little bit too far and has upset too many people,” Professor Jennings told the ABC.
This is such utter, blaming bullshit.
"The Heart Foundation has evoked anger with a hard-hitting television advertisement which suggests that if you don’t look after your health then you don’t love your family enough."https://t.co/4vpW4unBVr
— El Gibbs (@bluntshovels) May 28, 2019
The potential psychological damage as a result of your ad is something of great concern. As an allied health professional I am appalled. To who do I address a formal complaint?
— Dan Solomon (@brokendanau) May 28, 2019
The Heart Foundation ad is offensive & dangerous,I haven’t survived a 10hr heart attack & left with a serious brain injury to have this Ad point the finger at me with their scare & guilt campaign. Ads like these cause stress,stress causes #HeartAttacks #abcnews Just wrong! Ian
— 💧IanGraves (@xskinn) May 28, 2019
The campaign was designed to encourage Australians to get a Medicare-funded Heart Health check, which the Heart Foundation estimates could prevent up to 9100 deaths in the next five years.
Cardiovascular disease is a major cause of death in Australia, with an average of 51 people dying every day from the illness.
Professor Jennings said there was a “huge amount of complacency” in Australia when it came to heart health, which is what the foundation was trying to highlight.
“It was very well-meant, but clearly it’s gone too far,” he said.
The campaign was run by the Host/Havas advertising agency, which has been contacted by the ABC for comment.