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Wednesday, September 30, 1998 Published at 05:28 GMT 06:28 UK


Rodent rage!

Kevin the hamster: More than 500 people complained

A television advert in which a hamster dies has received a record number of complaints.

More than 500 viewers contacted the Independent Television Commission to complain about the Levi's advert.

BBC Media Correspondent Torin Douglas: Many objections were on behalf of children whose pets had died
Angry parents said they were disgusted after children were reduced to tears by the commercial, which shows Kevin playing on his wheel but dying of boredom when the wheel is taken away.

The advert featured Kevin being poked with a pencil as it lay, apparently lifeless, on a bed of sawdust.

[ image: 'Kevin' gets the push]
'Kevin' gets the push
None of the 519 complaints was upheld by the ITC, but it did rule that future showings of the ad should only be made after 9pm.

It called the ad a "somewhat flippant depiction of the apparent death of a household pet".

Levi's advertisement agency, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, argued that their intention was not to upset or shock viewers, but to make a humorous observation.

And Kevin was even brought out to reassure the concerned public that he was still alive.

See what happens to Kevin
Amanda Le Roux, Levi Strauss marketing director, said at the time the aim of the ads was to set up a bizarre or surreal situation, making the viewer look twice and think about what they see.

It was part of Levi's new brand concept - "expect the unexpected".

"The aim of the campaign is certainly not to shock or offend but to entertain the viewer. No animals were harmed or suffered any discomfort during the filmimg of the ad," she said.

Stuffed hamster

Kevin's owner Trevor Smith said the real Kevin had been inundated with offers of more star roles in adverts and TV programmes.

"I had to choose a stuffed dead hamster that looked like Kevin to take his place for the final scene. So it was not him at all," he said.

"But I knew this would happen. I can fully understand why children were upset and thought he was dead. I can assure you Kevin is alive and well and very loved."

[ image: Kevin in happier days]
Kevin in happier days
The ITC's Suzanne Prance said the huge response to the ads showed a greater willingness on the part of the public to complain.

"Hardly anyone used to complain about ads until a few years ago, but people now are more aware in these days of citizens' charters of their rights to complain about things they don't like.

"But there's also been a change in the tactics of advertisers. Before they were conscious television reached a broad audience and catered for the whole audience.

"Now they're targeting specific markets and aiming just at them - and often those outside the target group can be offended."

The Levi's ad beats the previous record holder - an ad for the Swedish furniture retailer Ikea from earlier this year which showed a boss thinking about sacking staff to pay for new furniture.

The ITC logged 410 complaints about the Ikea ad when it was broadcast earlier this year.

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