An ad on www.joke.co.uk featured a Halloween costume called "Adult Skitzo Costume". Text stated "Our Adult Skitzo Costume is a [sic] eye-catching Halloween fancy dress idea with a design based around a bright orange and black jumpsuit ... Costume Includes: Jumpsuit Shackles Mask Belt ... The Adult Skitzo Costume is an orange jumpsuit with black vinyl accents and a barcode on the chest that will make you look like a character straight out of a horror movie ... Also included with the outfit are a set of black vinyl shackles and belt, plus a restraining face mask to complete the look".
One complainant challenged whether the ad was offensive, because it reinforced negative attitudes about schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.
Abscissa.Com Ltd t/a Jokers Masquerade stated that the costume was produced by a US company called Rubies Masquerade, which had termed the costume "Skitzo" and supplied the image. They explained that they had therefore extended the manufacturer's term to call the item "Adult Skitzo Costume". They stated that other retailers also used the term "Skitzo" and the same image for that costume.
They stated that their content writers were aware of the relevant advertising guidelines. Their writers evaluated all products and composed what they perceived to be a true and informative description of any product, ensuring as much information was given to the consumer as possible to help them make an educated choice. They considered that most of the descriptive content in the ad was factual information.
They stated that "character straight out of a horror movie" was a reference to Dr Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. They stated they did not have the rights to make direct reference to the character or film in relation to the advertised costume, and also offered an official Licensed Hannibal Lecter costume elsewhere on the website. They explained that the "Adult Skitzo Costume" was a look-a-like costume.
They did not believe that their description was harmful or would cause offence, as they considered it was factual and bound by international License agreements.
The ASA noted that the product was featured on a website selling humorous fancy dress costumes, but was not otherwise targeted. Although advertisers were entitled to sell any product that was legal, the Code required marketers to ensure that ads did not contain anything that was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
We understood that the complainant considered that the ad misrepresented people with schizophrenia, because it implied they were violent and murderous. He considered that the ad contributed to the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Although we acknowledged that some consumers would be likely to find the costume distasteful, we considered that most consumers would view the image of the costume as representative of a familiar film character and that it was unlikely that the image, in itself, would cause offence. However, we considered that referring to mental illness, and in particular using the term "Skitzo", in conjunction with the image of the costume was likely to reinforce negative stereotypes about mental illness, and concluded that the title of the costume and any other references to "Adult Skitzo Costume" were likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule
Marketing communications must not contain anything that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Particular care must be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age. Compliance will be judged on the context, medium, audience, product and prevailing standards.
Marketing communications may be distasteful without necessarily breaching this rule. Marketers are urged to consider public sensitivities before using potentially offensive material.
The fact that a product is offensive to some people is not grounds for finding a marketing communication in breach of the Code. (Harm and offence).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told the advertisers not to make reference to mental illness in conjunction with the costume.