‘Mooving Funerals’

Fran Hall 7 Comments
Fran Hall

We recently had our attention drawn to a new campaign that has been launched by the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF), in conjunction with Westerleigh, the cremation company. The campaign (described as a toolkit) is intended to aid small funeral businesses faced with the aggressive marketing tactics of large direct cremation companies.

We understand how the rapid advance of direct cremation is changing the funeral landscape, so we were interested to see how the trade association for independent funeral directors has responded to this threat to members’ businesses.

Unfortunately, as you will see, it seems that they have got it very wrong indeed. In our opinion, anyway.

One component of the ‘toolkit’ is a video, apparently designed to ‘educate and engage consumers about the value of attended funerals.’ 

It features a farmer, a herd of cows and some men carrying a coffin into a crematorium, with the finishing strapline ‘A mooving funeral can really help your herd say goodbye’

There are various clips of the full video that are suitable for use on social media, and SAIF members are encouraged to share ‘this simple but powerful video on your platforms to remind people why funerals matter’.

On behalf of the GFG directors, and with their full agreement, I wrote to the SAIF Chief Executive and the Executive Board of SAIF at the end of June, detailing the multiple issues we have with this video. Our letter is below: 

Dear Terry and Officers of SAIF Executive 2023

I am writing in response to the ‘Mooving Funerals’ publicity campaign that you have launched, and that you are encouraging SAIF members to adopt.

I would like to make some observations about the campaign, both from the personal perspective of a bereaved person, and secondly from a professional standpoint.

To begin with my personal perspective, I feel strongly that the campaign shows a lack of understanding about why the term ‘moving on’ is profoundly unhelpful for bereaved people. It is now widely understood by grief specialists that ‘moving on’ is what those surrounding the bereaved often wish they would do – not something that the bereaved are able to do. Rather they (myself included) need to be supported to integrate the grief and come to terms with it. To find a way to grow from it – and live with it. The lame play on words and the imagery of docile livestock used to support your theme compounds my disquiet; I find the cattle imagery particularly offensive. 

I have shown the campaign material to other bereaved people, who have all reacted in the same way, with surprise and annoyance both at the use of this unhelpful term as the basis for a trade association sponsored PR campaign, and at the visual interpretation of  wordplay on the ‘moving on’ term of a herd of cows representing a bereaved family. 

From a professional standpoint, this campaign does not appear to contend with the serious issue of the increasing numbers of direct cremations and the impact this is having on the profession.  It does not address the many reasons why people choose a direct cremation;  a SAIF campaign that sought to do so could have been a great opportunity to show how creative, involving and therefore helpful (therapeutic?) an attended funeral can be. Instead, we have a blend of attention-grabbing animal casting along with the usual, tired images of men carrying a coffin into a crematorium.

Even if some viewers find the video cute or funny, I very much doubt that it will make anyone think clearly enough to change their mind about direct cremation. There is no attempt to address the underlying motivations of choosing an unattended funeral, or the very real consequences of missing out on the chance to say a collective farewell. The critical purpose of the video fails because of these fundamental flaws.

For all the reasons above, I am extremely surprised that SAIF has decided that this campaign is appropriate for members to adopt and use in their advertising and social media. 

I am very concerned that should any members choose to do so, individual companies will risk offending many people in their communities, losing potential future business while simultaneously failing to stem the haemorrhage of attended funerals in favour of the aggressively marketed direct cremation companies. 

I would urge you to reconsider your support for – and promotion – of this campaign.

With best wishes

A few days later, we received a response which read as follows:

Dear Fran,

Thank you for taking time to express the views of the GFG on the first iteration of the SAIF Direct Cremation toolkit.  The video is one component of the toolkit.

It is never easy to address the theme of death in our society.  Interestingly the retired English cricketer, Andrew Strauss, wrote about his wife’s death in 2018 from lung cancer and how the subject is still a difficult subject to raise in our society.

The video is for those who are making plans, so to inform their options in order to avoid the potential risk that an unattended cremation may harm their grief journey when they may not fully understand what they are entering into.

Your letter has been shared with the SAIF leadership as requested.

Warm wishes

It seems, therefore, that SAIF are committed to this bovine-centric video campaign as a way of addressing the rapid advance of direct cremation companies into the funerals market.

We will be curious to see how SAIF members respond. Is this something that SAIF members welcome from their trade association? Or is there a similar level of disquiet as we have about the messaging? And what about the public reaction?

We would be very interested to hear what readers of this blog think – do please comment below.

(We did inform SAIF that we would be publishing both our letter and their response on the GFG blog)


  1. Fran Hall

    I agree whole heartedly with everything you say and find the SAIF response to be somewhat nonsensical. Why bring Andrew Strauss into it? Is he in the video? Has he specifically endorsed it? And with nonsense like this emmenating from a professional body that should know better the difficult conversations about death in our culture are going to continue to be difficult… I currently have personal experience through a friend of the devastating impact of DC on the bereaved – I’m pretty sure that seeing this video would only upset that person more. And finally, as you say, comparing mourners to a herd of cattle is particularly insensitive and crass imagery. SAIF need to do a lot better.

  2. Fran Hall

    I was surprised, and perplexed by the choice of the herd of cows in this context. It struck me as offensive, much as I love cows. I agree with the points Fran made in her letter to SAIF on behalf of GFG and was very disappointed in the initial response. It seems that SAIF really don’t get the point… Direct Cremation is being wheeled out as a viable option, to folk who have often no concept of the human need for ritual to mark ‘Rites of Passage’. Cheap, hassle-free disposal does nothing except sweep death and the natural journey through bereavement under the carpet… Not in my experience a healthy way to go, for the person who has died or their family and friends. Clearly it is a choice that some opt for enthusiastically and with thought, however, I believe that the DC companies that offer benign advertising on TV are not doing our society justice. Good Funeral Directors and facilitators all over the UK offer a far more satisfying service at end of life, not only for those left behind, but in caring for the person who has died. Its possibly a case of ‘where ignorance is bliss, follow the herd’… I support the work of SAIF, but don’t feel that this has been thought through.

  3. Fran Hall

    I am another one in agreement that this ‘toolkit’ doesn’t work for me.

    For starters, I didn’t actually realise it was anything to do with direct cremation services and genuinely thought it was promoting natural burial funerals.

    It was only when I read the blurb that I realised what they were trying to do and in my opinion, seriously miss the mark.

    I work in a city where it isn’t always possible for people to fly home at a moments notice to attend a funeral and a direct cremation service works best for them.

    I have clients who decide that a direct cremation service works because they will have a huge memorial service at a later date and how they view a person isn’t necessarily the way you or I would. I see my grandfather and they see ‘a body.’
    Their thought process is more academic rather than emotional.

    There are some who decide it is right for them based on cost but we work with them to create something meaningful that they can do collectively to mourn the death of their person.

    And there are others who ‘want to honour their wishes’ where the person who has died have requested it. This can cause a huge amount of trauma because they are weighing up what they were told by that person but also what they want and need.

    Direct cremation services do have their place but it isn’t for everyone. Comparing people to animals and the fact we should be ‘moving on’ after someone has died is damaging.

    It’s three years since my friend and mentor died. He meant a huge amount to me. While the initial crippling grief has subsided, there are times when things catch me off guard and I miss him all over again in an instant.

    I wonder how we all would have coped if he had wanted a direct cremation service. The need to collectively be with people who knew him and put so much effort into his funeral service was completely profound. We wouldn’t have got that support from each other if there wasn’t a service to attend.

    There are a multitude of ways to have a funeral service now and it doesn’t have to be expensive. For SAIF to come up with a ‘toolkit’ that isn’t clear, I feel is a colossal waste of money and a massive opportunity missed for a real, hard conversation about death.

    PS – Don’t even get me started on the same old trope being dusted off with four men in black carrying a coffin. This wouldn’t even represent 1% of funerals I undertake in a year.

  4. Fran Hall

    I agree absolutely, the use of the phrase ‘moving on’ is just awful. It’s something that every bereaved person I’ve ever met has been hurt by, so why the hell would anyone in their right mind decide to base a whole campaign about funerals around it?
    I’ve just rewatched this cringe-worthy video and cannot image how this type of gimmick is going to ‘remind people about why funerals matter’, or indeed how it ‘ensures people fully understand all available options and the various implications’ as worded in the ‘toolkit’! Showing four men carrying a veneer coffin into a crematorium is hardly showing people ALL THE OPTIONS!!!
    Moreover, this ‘toolkit’ seems to be shaming the bereaved who choose a direct cremation over a traditional service, which I find particularly unsavoury.
    As funeral directors, who are we to decide whether having one’s ‘herd’ sitting in a crematorium when we die is a good or a bad thing??
    The ad seems more about the large crematorium company Westerleigh avoiding more cut price cremations than anything else!
    As a small funeral company, we do many direct cremations, for a myriad of reasons – sometimes financial (as they typically cost half the price of a traditional service), sometimes to avoid mixing difficult family members, sometimes it’s the wishes of the person who has died, and sometimes a direct cremation can follow a service that takes place in a venue that ISN’T a crematorium. It is something we have offered for a long time and we give customers the same care and support as our more traditional funerals. Do we make as much money as with full services? No! – but then they tend to be a lot less labour intensive, so it probably evens out somewhere and there must be a place for them to provide a proper choice for people. SAIF should be encouraging their funeral directors to see the benefit of this new way of doing things, and be a bit creative, and I struggle to see how they are protecting the bereaved here!
    To top all of this, it’s difficult to see how some mooing cows, a flat cap and an embarrassingly awkward slogan is going to help anybody talk about death and funerals more easily, which surely should be the basis of any campaign from the industry!!
    Overall – what an epic fail!

  5. Fran Hall

    Gosh, you really nailed the thoughts of many here with this blog. I saw no options or choice, no colour, or personalisation. No family carrying the coffin in, or vegetable coffin sprays. Something other than the old stereotypical image of men carrying in, which didn’t really articulate anything about direct cremation. Like others here, we’ve offered unattended funerals for a while, but they can be mixed and matched with a service elsewhere beforehand. That way, the wishes of the deceased are upheld but the family get to grieve. Or we utilise a farewell service, which costs less than a full funeral and allows a small number of family to attend. We always discuss options within their budget, try to suggest ways to cut their bill. It’s should be an exploratory conversation not an upselling process, and unfortunately until other funeral directors start to think like those in the guild do, we are a long way from changing public opinion about direct cremation companies and their benefits.
    Our bereavement group hasn’t moved on, don’t want to and would hate to see this campaign. They use our group as a safe space to keep talking about their life after losing someone. Thanks for approaching saif, I’m disappointed they didn’t really address your points!

  6. Fran Hall

    What utter tosh

    How dare SAIF state Some are opting for a type of funeral that denies friends and relatives the chance to pay their respects.

    Those who opt for this ‘type of funeral’ are not denied the opportunity to say goodbye. This is managed without the accompaniment and expense of funeral directors, that’s all. Gatherings by the beach, in a garden, at a park, at a hotel meeting room…all these gatherings are an equally valid way of saying goodbye.

    Were any of the FDs SAIF is supposed to be supporting consulted concerning how they felt about a herd of cows representing their families? Was a professional agency approached or did some tin earred buffoon at SAIF come up with this risible ‘concept’?

    My lovely independent FD has held modest gatherings at her premises. This is to prevent the additional expense involved in hiring out the crematoria chapels that are the percieved appropriate venue for a funeral.

    When the funeral industry is faced with such a challenging time it seems counter-productive to use smoke, mirrors and bovines in this manner.

  7. Fran Hall

    Totally agree with the article above. What I really cannot understand is how Westerleigh can dare put their name to this when they are aggressively marketing their own direct cremation business – “Distinct Cremations” – as fronted by former Crimewatch presenter Sue Cook.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>