St John Ambulance ad banned over misleading first aid claim

St John Ambulance will continue to use a claim that first aid could help prevent up to 140,000 deaths a year in PR and ‘press materials’ despite the ad watchdog ruling that the figure is misleading and banning its use in advertising.


The move comes after independent fact-checking organisation Full Fact complained that the claim “first aid could help prevent up to 140,000 deaths every year” was misleading and could not be substantiated. The Advertising Standards Authority initially rejected the complaint but has now reversed the decision, saying the figure does not take into account the effectiveness of first aid on survival rates.

The charity says it is standing by the claim and has asked its legal advisers to explore any available avenues. This could include appealing the decision.

A spokesperson adds that St John Ambulance will continue to use the claim as appropriate in campaigns, including in its PR, as well as on materials such as its free first aid guides and banners at events. The ruling bans use of the claim in paid-for advertising or where the charity is soliciting donations or selling products.

Steve Conway, director of brand marketing, communications and fundraising at St John Ambulance, says: “Despite the ASA ruling that we can’t use the claim in advertising, we still stand by our analysis that first aid could help prevent up to 140,000 deaths every year. We believe this figure illustrates as accurately as is possible, within current medical and ethical limitations, the impact that first aid can have between life and death. Our work is vital if we’re to reduce the number of lives being needlessly lost each year.”

The ad, which launched in September last year, is aimed at encouraging people to learn first aid by claiming that as many people die in situations where first aid could have saved their lives as die from cancer each year. The 2-minute spot, created by BBH, shows a man surviving cancer but then dying at a family party because no one knows first aid.

In defence, St John Ambulance said it used the most recent mortality data from the Office of National Statistics and its own first aid manual to calculate the instances where knowledge of first aid death could have improved a person’s chance of survival, giving a total of 139,907. It obtained the cancer mortality figure from Cancer Research UK, which showed there were 137,999 cancer deaths in England and Wales.

The ASA ruling means that the claim must not appear in their current form in ads again. The ad watchdog has told St John Ambulance to ensure in future that claims accurately reflect the nature of the substantiation for it.

This is not the first time the ASA has investigated the ad. Last year almost 150 people complained that it was “offensive and distressing”. That time it escaped a ban after the ASA said that the serious message behind the campaign meant the shock tactics were justified.

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