Birds Eye's first advert with its new hunky Italian Captain Birdseye has been taken off air after water safety campaigners raised fears over its "dangerous" message.
Riccardo Acerbi, 56, stepped into the captain's shoes in January after being chosen to front the adverts for his "love of the sea" and "genuine approach" to the role. He quickly made a splash with his rugged daddy good looks, as one Twitter user even said he "can grill my fish finger any day of the week".
Yet his first advert as the captain has been temporarily taken off air for the voiceover to be recorded following concerns from water safety campaigners that it would encourage young people to jump into cold water on a hot day and land them in a life-threatening situation.
The advert sees him on a boat with his grandchildren, before he jumps into the sea with his grandson and then enjoys a plate of fish fingers. The voiceover says: "Captain Birdseye loves the simple things - like jumping into cold water on a hot day with his grandson."
Rebecca Ramsay, whose athletic 13-year-old son Dylan died after swimming in open water with his friends in 2011, successfully lobbied Birds Eye into changing the advert. Since her son's death, she has been working with fire services and visiting schools to teach the dangers of swimming in open water and cold water shock.
Around 300 to 400 people die by drowning or other water-related deaths each year. The RNLI has explained cold water shock: "Cold water shock causes the blood vessels in the skin to close, which increases the resistance of blood flow. Heart rate is also increased. As a result the heart has to work harder and your blood pressure goes up. Cold water shock can therefore cause heart attacks, even in the relatively young and healthy.
"The sudden cooling of the skin by cold water also causes an involuntary gasp for breath. Breathing rates can change uncontrollably, sometimes increasing as much as tenfold. All these responses contribute to a feeling of panic, increasing the chance of inhaling water directly into the lungs." Official advice is to stay calm and float on your back if experiencing any of these symptoms.
Ramsay described the advert as "unacceptable and inappropriate" and a "kick in the gut after all the hard work I've done for six years". She told IBTimes UK: "That's what I'm going into schools telling kids not to do because that can literally take your life. I was horrified, to be honest."
After initially sending private messages to Birds Eye and receiving no response, Ramsay said she went public with her concerns on social media and subsequently ended up on a call with the company's advertising director. After that, the advert was quickly pulled and Ramsay acknowledged it was "very positive" that Birds Eye was open to changes.
She said: "They were very very very positive in that immediately they were going to change the advert. They realised they had made a big boo-boo, they said 'we have had a look at your campaign, we are not sure why this [advert] was even passed'." She was particularly surprised to hear there were a lot of safety measures put in place for the filming, including lifeguards and not allowing the boy to be in the water for too long, showing that they were aware of the potential dangers.
Ramsay is happy the voiceover will be changed to remove references to the cold water and hot weather, but thinks it could go further to say something like: "Captain Birdseye enjoys the simple things in life like teaching his grandson water safety."
A Birds Eye spokesperson said: "At Birds Eye, we take our advertising responsibilities very seriously and we were grateful to be made aware of this issue. Since then, we have taken the current advert off air. We are now amending the voiceover to remove references to the temperature of the water and weather.
"We take all appropriate steps to ensure that our advertising is suitable to air in the UK and observe safety guidelines during the production of all our advertising. Our testing did not raise this specific issue. As a family brand, we decided to take swift action and wish campaigners every success in highlighting this important issue."
Various fire services have praised Birds Eye's decision on social media. East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service's Water Safety team tweeted Ramsay to say: "Absolutely fantastic outcome Beckie! Good to hear that @BirdsEyeUk are understanding the importance of #BeWaterAware #RespectTheWater messages and are listening to your advice!"