Offensive ASPCA commercial

There are a lot of offensive TV commercials.  Most of them are intellectually offensive and offenses against good taste.

The ASPCA has one right now that is offensive intellectually, from the point of view of taste, and also on religious grounds.

Images of animals suffering in the cold… in the background the music is In The Bleak Midwinter.  HERE

The poem by Christina Rossetti and Christmas carol In The Bleak Midwinter is about the birth of Christ.

No good person wants animals needlessly to suffer.  But it is out of bounds to invoke a comparison of their suffering and having “no room at the inn” with Christ’s humble birth.

Some might counter that they only wanted to involve the words about it being cold and bleak, etc.  I say, no good.  This song is too well known.   If the people who put this spot together did not bother to check the rest of the lyrics and ask themselves about the propriety of their use, then they are daft and incompetent.  I suppose their lawyers checked about copyright, etc. I will assume that they are not stupid and that they knew what they were doing with this manipulation.  They intended the parallel.

Organizations are free to issue tastelessly manipulative commercials to promote their products or causes.  I am free to say that the ASPCA commercial is offensive on religious grounds.

Do this to Muslims, ASPCA.  Try it.

Moderation queue is ON.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Benedict Joseph says:

    You scare me. I thought I was the only one to notice this and to be offended and annoyed. Between the sacrilege and the manipulation – of course they are entirely clueless regarding sacrilege. (What’s that?) Being a pushover for any animal, this is a consciousness issue that really puts me in a bind. I switch stations whenever it comes on – like five minutes ago.

  2. Marg says:

    We also heard an ASPCA ad of the same type with “Silent Night” playing in the
    background. Totally unconscionable! In fact it’s playing right now…GRRRR!

  3. acardnal says:

    I saw one ASPCA commercial where the soundtrack was “Silent Night, Holy Night.”

  4. xylkatie says:

    Under the same theme of offensiveness, they have another ad running with Silent Night:

  5. keithp says:

    I suspect that this song was chosen for it’s emotional appeal. It may be that the SPCA had no idea about the origin and intent of the poem. Perhaps, they wouldn’t care either. I don’t know.

    Ignorance rather than malice is often more common for these situations ie commercials. [I don’t buy that for a moment.]

  6. OldProfK says:

    In addition to the pertinent points already made, there appear to be questions about what portion of donations to ASPCA actually make it to shelters to help animals (ASPCA is a New York entity that may or may not be associated with the SPCA shelter near you).

  7. robtbrown says:

    They used Silent Night in another dog commercial

  8. jhayes says:

    Francis said in Laudato si

    92. Moreover, when our hearts are authentically open to universal communion, this sense of fraternity excludes nothing and no one. It follows that our indifference or cruelty towards fellow creatures of this world sooner or later affects the treatment we mete out to other human beings. We have only one heart, and the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat an animal will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people. Every act of cruelty towards any creature is “contrary to human dignity”.[69] We can hardly consider ourselves to be fully loving if we disregard any aspect of reality: “Peace, justice and the preservation of creation are three absolutely interconnected themes, which cannot be separated and treated individually without once again falling into reductionism”.[70] Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth.

    [So what? No one wants animals to suffer needlessly. But I think we get your message. Christ… cold dog… shivering big-eyed kitty… interchangeable… no big deal.]

  9. gracie says:

    The quickest way to get the song removed is to accuse the ASPCA of promoting Christianity.

  10. jilly4life says:

    It is not malice, but it is a deliberate choice. They are using the songs (both Bleak Midwinter and Silent Night) for emotional appeal and to connect the issue with morality, charity, and hope. They are trying to signal that it is the holiday season, where you are supposed to be generous and giving (to the ASPCA, which by the way, you are better off giving to your local shelter than to the ASPCA). It is similar to how they used the Sarah Mclaughlin song Angel for a long time.

  11. Muv says:

    Being on the opposite side of the Atlantic, this was news to me.

    Having listened to the words being sung, it is clear that the producers of this advert were particularly aware of the words of the carol and have edited it to suit their purposes.

    The recording is by Susan Boyle and can be heard here:-

    On the ASPCA advert she can be heard in the background singing the first verse. Then the fun starts at the end of the second verse, the final line of which is “The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.” This has been replaced with the final line of the next verse “The ox and ass and camel, which adore.” Then the soundtrack is cut straight to the final two lines of the carol, and continues “If I were a wise man I would do my part. Yet what can I give Him: give my heart.” Meanwhile the plea is “60 cents a day is all it takes for you to say I’ve done my part to help animals who are clinging to life right now.”

    So there you have it. Shameless editing out of the direct reference to Jesus Christ to replace Him with the ox and ass and camel, and the parodying of the expression of love for the Infant Saviour to make it an appeal for cash for animals.

    So glad that I can guarantee that I will not be seeing this advert again.

  12. fishonthehill says:

    Most agreed Fr. Z ! I am so glad I threw out my television when I was ordained… life is so more interesting… as is your blog!

  13. torch621 says:

    Sent them an e-mail addressing these concerns. Made sure to keep it as respectful as possible.

  14. robtbrown says:


    It is not malice, but it is a deliberate choice. They are using the songs (both Bleak Midwinter and Silent Night) for emotional appeal and to connect the issue with morality, charity, and hope.

    You’re right about emotional appeal–welcome to the world of advertising.

    Morality, charity, and hope? Not really.

  15. Simon_GNR says:

    I’ve watched the commercial and was not offended by it. In my opinion what ASPCA have produced is within the bounds of good taste and respect for faith/religion.
    [BTW I didn’t actually like the advert – they had an adult female soprano singing the carol, to the Gustav Holst tune: I’d have preferred the Harold Darke tune, sung by a boy treble.]

  16. Scott W. says:

    It is not malice, but it is a deliberate choice. They are using the songs (both Bleak Midwinter and Silent Night) for emotional appeal and to connect the issue with morality, charity, and hope. They are trying to signal that it is the holiday season, where you are supposed to be generous and giving (to the ASPCA, which by the way, you are better off giving to your local shelter than to the ASPCA). It is similar to how they used the Sarah Mclaughlin song Angel for a long time.

    Spot on. It ends up being signal honor so to speak and pays a compliment to the evocative power of the music. Unfortunately it backfires and the unintentional subtext is “while you are in a warm house stuffing your face, the evil of the world goes on.” Well yeah, but since you want us to give you money, does this really help your chances?

    I remember the Sarah Mclaughlin music, which was always overly mawkish caterwauling to me and just a reminder of the awful trend in music by female performers ever since Paula Cole’s “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?”

  17. Sandy says:

    Thank you, Muv, for the Susan Boyle link, it was beautiful. On that page was a link to Susan’s first audition, which I played. Once again I cried, as is common when we are exposed to pure beauty. We forget in this world that beauty is one of God’s characteristics (Truth, Beauty, Goodness, etc.). We will soon have a wake up call, I’m afraid.

  18. Patti Day says:

    My thought when I saw this ad was that if such an emotional plea were produced lamenting the number of babies aborted, their mangled bodies packed into plastic bags, or thrown into dumpsters, even babies who survived abortion left to die on a cold stainless steel table, the cries of outrage would have shut the ads down immediately. American tears (and contributions) flow for a sad-eyed dog or a box of abandoned kittens, but not for their butchered children.

  19. The Cobbler says:

    I think gracie’s suggestion might be the most effective, sadly.

  20. jilly4life says:

    robtbrown, they are trying to make it a moral issue. Donate 60 cents a day to us and you are a “good person.” That is the message they are using, to get what they want (money). If they prey on peoples holiday spirit of generosity, hope, and charity, they win. Yes, this is the world of advertising, and it is not pretty.

  21. mike cliffson says:

    I got lost following your account of these pearls before swine perps , senior moments wash away what I once knew by heart, and I came across a blog called pertinacious papist :

    The Remarkable Woman Behind ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’
    Karen Swallow Prior, “The Remarkable Woman Behind ‘In the Bleak Midwinter'” (TGC, December 16, 2015):

    …/… Originally titled “A Christmas Carol,” the poem we know as “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Christina Rossetti (1830–1894) was first published in 1872 by the American journal Scribner’s Monthly. It wasn’t set to music until 1906, 12 years after Rossetti’s death, when it appeared in The English Hymnal.


    In the bleak midwinter
    Frosty wind made moan,
    Earth stood hard as iron,
    Water like a stone:
    Snow had fallen, snow on snow
    Snow on snow,
    In the bleak mid-winter,
    Long ago.

    Our God, heaven cannot hold him
    Nor earth sustain;
    Heaven and earth shall flee away
    When he comes to reign:
    In the bleak mid-winter
    A stable-place sufficed
    The Lord God Almighty
    Jesus Christ.

    Enough for him, whom cherubim
    Worship night and day,
    A breastful of milk,
    And a mangerful of hay:
    Enough for him, whom angels
    Fall down before,
    The ox and ass and camel
    Which adore.

    Angels and archangels
    May have gathered there,
    Cherubim and seraphim
    Thronged the air –
    But only his mother
    In her maiden bliss
    Worshipped the beloved
    With a kiss.

    What can I give him,
    Poor as I am?
    If I were a shepherd
    I would bring a lamb;
    If I were a wise man
    I would do my part;
    Yet what I can, I give him –
    Give my heart.

    The rest of the post is an interesting analysis of the author and the hymn

  22. yatzer says:

    There is also an ad for spaying female animals that shows how much more fun said animal can have without offspring. The thing is, the situations are mostly takes on possible experiences in human lives, not cats.

  23. jflare says:

    I’m…having a little trouble getting fired up over this one. Are we objecting to the ad on grounds that the song refers to Christ’s birth? Or that it’s aired around the time of Christmas? Or that the ad refers to help needed for animals, not humans? All three?
    For what it’s worth, I don’t recall having ever heard the song before and I wasn’t listening to the lyrics throughout. I was paying attention to the imagery and the narration. If it’s a cheap use of what may be a beautiful piece of music…well, I guess we’ve got another example of how far our culture has fallen. There was a time when we could expect the pre-Christmas time to reflect a Christian frame of mind, if not precisely Catholic. We could expect manger scenes to be erected and carols sung in public places without harassment from angry secularists.
    If we have not declared a public religion of secularism yet, we certainly have seen such a “religion” assume center stage in the public square.
    Commercials like this are part of the consequences.

  24. jflare says:

    Sad, but true.

  25. Sonshine135 says:

    Unfortunately, this is all to common to animal rights activists, and explaining the offense of this situation is like trying to explain the fullness of Catholic Doctrine to the LCWR- it goes in one ear in and out the other, because there is nothing between the ears to keep it from flowing out. I have a tendency to appeal to those who cry over ASPCA-like issues (remember Cecil the Lion last year?) with this statement: “Wow, if only we were so upset over humans ……… (left out in the cold, killed, aborted). More times than not, I get someone(s) who say, “I care a lot more about my……(dog, cat, fish, rabbit) than I do some rotten human. It shows really how far we have fallen that we love an animal that can’t love over a human being made in God’s likeness and image.

    Now, lest you believe I am against animal rights, I love all of God’s creatures. I especially love them next to my mashed potatoes.

  26. Charlotte Allen says:

    I didn’t find the ad offensive. “In the Bleak Midwinter” is a lovely poem, and I’m partial to the Holst setting. It doesn’t seem blasphemous, at the time when we remember “that animals saw the newborn Lord lying in the manger,” to think about being kind to the animals around us nowadays. And some who hear the song may wish to hear it in full and thus discover its Christian meaning.

    It’s true that some people get all weepy about animals and care not a whit about aborted babies. But the song doesn’t ask its listeners to choose between animals and unborn humans.

    [The commercial draws a subtle parallel between animals and Christ.]

  27. torch621 says:

    Thus was their response.

    “Dear Justin,


    Thank you so much for taking the time to contact us. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts.


    I apologize if you found the content of our ad upsetting. We feel it is necessary to show the American public the harsh reality these animals face. And although our message is strong, it makes an impact, and we hope a measurable difference. 


    On behalf of the animals we serve, I thank you for your care and compassion as well as your dedication to America’s homeless, abused and neglected pets.






    Valerie Vierengel

    Director, Donor Stewardship”

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