An ad on www.joke.co.uk featured a costume called "Psycho Clown Costume" and featured an image of a man holding a bloody machete and was wearing clown make-up, a blood spattered stained torn T-shirt, baggy trousers with thick red braces and a hat with bright red curly hair attached to it. The ad also featured text that described the costume and stated, “... You'll give your friends colrophobia when they see you in this frightening clown costume[..]”.
Two complainants challenged whether the ad was offensive, because it reinforced negative attitudes about serious mental health illnesses.
Abscissa.Com Ltd t/a Jokers Masquerade acknowledged the complaint and stated that it was not their intention for the ad to cause any offence.
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.
Although we acknowledged that some consumers would be likely to find the costume distasteful, we considered that it was unlikely that the image would cause offence. We noted that the word "Psycho" was used in naming the costume, which along with the image, the complainants considered misrepresented people with mental illness because it implied they were violent and murderous. They considered that the ad contributed to the stigma surrounding mental illness.
While we appreciated the complainants' concerns, we considered, however, that consumers would interpret the ad’s reference to “Psycho” as a reflection of the themed costume resembling a villainous fictional character from a horror film rather than as a reference to a person suffering from chronic mental disorder leading to abnormal or violent antisocial behaviour. Therefore, we considered that the reference to "Psycho" in conjunction with the image of the costume was unlikely to reinforce negative stereotypes about mental illness, and concluded that the title of the costume “Psycho Clown Costume " was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.
We investigated under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.
(Social Responsibility) and
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), but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.