Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.
Ads containing references to suicide must take extreme care; without strong justification, inclusion of suicidal imagery or content is likely to cause serious offence or, potentially, harm to those who are vulnerable to such imagery. Flippant references, trivialisation, and glamorisation are particularly likely to be considered irresponsible, but sensitive references intended to raise awareness of (for example) relevant charities may be acceptable.
In 2016, the ASA received a complaint about a banner ad for an online betting company, which stated “SAVE YOURSELF” alongside a silhouette of a man hanging from a rope by his neck. The ASA upheld the complaint, and considered that the ad was socially irresponsible and likely to cause serious offence, in particular to those affected by suicide, mental health conditions or gambling problems (FanBet, 02 March 2016).
Sometimes imagery may be ambiguous, so marketers should take care of the context of the ad as a whole. In 2019 the ASA investigated a complaint about a social media post for a life insurance company, which featured an image of a man leaning the front of his head against a wall with his arms by his side with text which stated “… Life insurance to die for”. Although the ad did not make a direct reference to mental health or suicide, the ASA considered that the image created the impression that the felt isolated and was in despair. In the context of an ad for life insurance, they considered those who saw the ad were likely to associate the man’s posture as alluding to suicidal feelings. The ASA upheld the complaint, considering that by trivialising the issue of suicide and alluding to it to promote life insurance, the ad was likely to cause serious offence to some people. (Dead Happy Ltd, 11 December 2019)
On the other hand, complaints about a 2011 ad for Miu Miu that showed a teenage model sitting on a railway track were not upheld by the ASA. Although complaints were considered that the sombre tone of the ad alluded to suicidal intent, the ASA agreed with the advertiser that the image was stylised and clearly part of a staged fashion shoot. They concluded that the ad was prepared with a due sense of responsibility and would not be suggestive of youth suicide to impressionable young people. However, complaints about depicting a child in an unsafe situation were upheld. (Prada Retail UK Ltd, 23 November 2011)