Academic Work

Analysing the narrative structure within 2 animal cruelty advertisements: RSCPA- Harlow’s Story and WSPA – ‘Baby’

‘The RSPCA as a charity will, by all lawful means, prevent cruelty, promote kindness to and alleviate suffering of all animals’- Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA)

‘Our vision is a world where animal welfare matters and animal cruelty has ended. Together we can move the world for animals.’- World Animal Protection Society (WSPA)

Animal cruelty is a highly controversial issue within today’s society, with advertisements posted everywhere from social media, to daytime television. The emotional qualities these advertisements pose produce a ‘personal relationship between the product and the human personality’ as spoke about within Social Communication in Advertising by Leiss, Kline and Jhally. Within the analysis of my two researched adverts, I am going explore the narrative structure that similar charities within this genre typically use. I also intend to explore the methods used throughout these narratives and the effects they have on an audience.

The narrative within RSPCA- Harlow’s Story follows the story of an abandoned dog. It shows the dog being filmed in its abusive environment and a voice over with the RSPCA staff walking in and rescuing it. Similarly, WSPA’S ‘Baby’ advertisement shows the animals in their abusive environment, but instead, they are not rescued. Although both advertisements follow a similar narrative, they create an emotional connection in a different way. RSPCA’s approach to the advertisement includes a real-life mise-en-scene of the staff rescuing the dog and taking it to shelter.

The RSPCA use a range of approaches within their advertisement to create emotion. At 0:05  into the advertisement, a panning shot is used of the dog who we know as Harlow, to display the visibility of his ribs, connoting the abuse he has endured. While this panning shot is occurring, a voiceover comments on the dog’s well-being and the environment, mentioning that he is ‘half the weight he should have been’. In this commentary, the use of past tense allows an audience to believe that Harlow is now healthier and that the RSPCA have helped him; therefore using a persuasive technique for more donations to be collected. Soon after the panning shot has occurred, another tracking shot of Harlow walking is visible, which shows the true extent of the abuse he has endured. Harlow is not the only animal RSPCA choose to use. Throughout the advertisement, other abused animals are used such as a cat (01:14) attempting to walk down a path but struggling. All animals included in the advertisement are filmed in their abusive environments to create more empathy for an audience, another persuasive technique. A number of clips within the advertisement show the animals being rescued, with the narrative focusing on the neglect occurring within the UK. Statistics are used at 00:21, highlighting the neglect in an interview-style format. These statistics are mentioned shortly after certain animals have been rescued, for example: ‘but right now, there are thousands of animals experiencing unimaginable pain and suffering’. After witnessing a glimmer of hope for the animals, the narrative shortly takes an audience back to reality by highlighting the truth of the neglect and abuse.

Within WSPA’s advertisement, similar techniques are used with direct address to the audience and the shots taken. It instantly starts with a bear cub chained and being forced to dance with a voiceover describing what the animal has been through. This happens with multiple shots of various different animals in similar environments and situations. WSPA’s approach of taking shots with the animals in their natural abusive environments perhsaps creates more empathy, compared to RSPCA narrative that shows the animals being rescued. At 00:46 into the WSPA advertisement, a donkey with his two right legs tied together is shown with no hope of being rescued; the narrative is thus more graphic and develops a sense of realism within the advert. This evokes audience emotion as they are exposed to the truth behind certain abuse that may not have been realized before. Furthermore, WSPA use comparisons within their voiceovers. After 00:20 into the advertisement, a voice mentions, ‘so many young animals are traumatized before their life has begun’. With the use of emotive language, it causes an audience to compare young animals to young children in the same situations of abuse. While the commentary is being spoken, shots of young animals confined within cages are used which develops the empathy for these animals. Moreover, the narrative here creates a shock factor for the audience. As discussed within Semiotics and Shock Advertisements, author Corinna Colette Vellnagel (2011) mentions that advertisements cause different reactions within an audience. She speaks about how some advertisements cause an audience to both think and reflect on what they have just witnessed, or literally cause a shock factor. I believe that in both the RSPCA and WSPA advertisements, as well as many other animal cruelty advertisements, the charities intend to create both these emotions within their audience, as a persuasive technique to collect more money for their charity.

Both of my advertisements challenge Todrov’s five part narrative. To begin with, neither of the advertisements have an obvious equilibrium in the form of a feeling of calmness and peace within the situation. Instead, the adverts appear to open with the disruption stage, with the voiceovers and shots showing  the torture and struggles the animals have been subjected to. Both the ‘attempt to solve’ and ‘resolution’ stages are evident within the RSPCA advert, supporting aspects of Todorov’s narrative theory,  shown when Harlow is rescued and then taken to the shelter. However, these are the only stages of Todorov’s theory that can be applied, as shortly after the voiceover states that thousands of other animals are in the same situation as Harlow was. This suggests that there cannot be a new equilibrium, since there was not one to begin with. WSCA’s approach to advertising challenges Todorov’s theory even further than the RSPCA advert: the only stage clearly evident is the disruption/complication stage, rather than a solution (resolution) to the problem. With the advert’s visuals of only showing the animals in their  abusive environments, the WSPA advert creates a sense of hopelessness and that there is no new beginning at any time for these animals.

While each advertisement challenges Todorov’s five part narrative, both reinforce Propp’s narrative roles with the use of a hero. In the RSPCA asdvert, the Propp’s hero role would be applied to the RSPCA worker who rescues Harlow at the beginning of the video and rhetorically questions what the previous owners had done to him. In both adverts, the animals are portrayed as victims, reinforced through the use of slow motion shots to capture the pain within the animals and the cruelty inflicted upon them. In contrast to the RSPCE advert, within the WSPA advert there is no hero that rescues the victim. The narrative centers on the idea of a victim portrayed in their natural abusive environment, leading to the conclusion that they are trying to impact their audience through the use of guilt and emotive techniques.

Contrastingly, the role of Propp’s villain is rarely mentioned within the advertisements. Instead, the victim is the main point of interest within the adverts. The only moment we are told about the villain is through the actions inflicted onto the animals within WSPA’s advertisement, and when the RSPCA official rhetorically questions ‘what have they done to you?’. This narrative construction suggests that the main point of focus within the advertisement is raising money for the charity and the animals. Giving people an insight into what occurs in animal cruelty situations is prioritized in the narrative and is visible within both advertisements. The aim of each advertisement is not to expose the villain; the aim is to display the pain within the animals in hope of raising money for the charity.

Furthermore, Eistensteins Film Form theory is visible within both of these advertisements. The advertisements each use a series of montages that develops the narrative through shots related to each other. Development and use of this technique is a deliberate effect so that it inflicts an emotional response from the audience. Furthermore, the use of lighting within both of these narratives results in a darker and dull effect and therefore darker mood within the audience. Dark and dull lighting, such as a black and white effect, allows for a creator to produce a piece of work that will appear different to other advertisements, creating a more emotional sadness. This theory of creating empathy within an audience is discussed in Advertising Theories by Shelley Rodgers and Esther Thornton (2012). This technique is one used openly by many animal welfare charities, not only the RSPCA and WSPA. Lastly, the type of clips used, specifically WSPA, portrays the animals to be dependent on the human rescuing/helping them, highlighting the weakness and innocence of these animals, allowing an audience to empathize and possibly give money to the charity.

A further theory relating to these two advertisements is that of Levi Strauss’ Binary Opposition. This is used within these advertisements as well as many other animal cruelty adverts to contrast the ‘bad’ environment with a ‘good’ environment. For example, within the WSPA advertisement at 00:27, the shot fades in from a previous graphic shot and shows a multitude of dogs contained within a small cage, obviously too compact for that number of animals to be confined within it.  This reinforces Levi Strauss’s binary opposition of the animals being trapped within a bad environment, causing the viewer to compare the shot to a good environment that they should be in.

From analyzing these two advertisements, I have discovered that the narrative structures are very similar, but do contrast at times. The RSPCA uses footage and techniques of a real-life rescue, contrasting with WSPA’s narrative method of highlighting the animals in their abusive environments; although RSPCA use this technique also. The lighting used within both advertisements has a dark undertone to them, allowing for the feeling of empathy and sadness to be developed within an audience. Furthermore, by the two advertisements only including the victim and no villains, the narrative allows for the audience to keep complete focus on the treatment and neglect that the animal has face, creating empathy. They both include persuasive techniques of making the audience feel guilty and furthermore, creating more of a chance for the viewers to donate to the charities.








RSPCA . (2010). Our Mission. Available: Last accessed 8th October 2015.

WSPA. (2015). Our Beliefs. Available: Last accessed 8th October 2015.

(2012). Advertising Narratives. In: Shelley Rodgers and Esther Thorson Advertising Theories. UK: Routledge.

Corinna Colette Vellnagel (2011). Semiotics and Shock Advertisements . Germany: GRIN Verlag. 3-6.


Background reading-

Edward Branigan. (1992). Story World and Screen. In: Narrative Comprehension and Film. USA and Canada: Routledge. 61-62.

Kim Socha (2013). Confronting Animal Exploitation: Grassroots Essays on Liberation and Veganism. London: McFarland & Company, Inc.. 197-198.

Leiss, Kline and Jhally. (1990). Origins of the Consumer Culture. In:Social Communication in Advertising: Persons, Products & Images of Well-being. USA: Pearsons. 68-69.




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