A TV ad for ASDA, seen in October 2017, showed green lightning entering a house where a young girl dressed as a witch was standing in front of a mirror. The lightning caused a radio to glow green and start playing music. As the girl looked at the radio her eyes changed to glow green and she started dancing with jerky motions while staring straight ahead and lip syncing to the song, along with other children in Halloween costumes. The children went downstairs where four adults in costumes were sitting in a room decorated for Halloween. The girl pointed at the adults, who began to dance in the same style and whose eyes also changed to green. More children dressed in costumes then came through the front door. All the characters were shown dancing in a party-like atmosphere. The ad ended with a close-up shot of the first girl, whose green eyes changed into the ASDA logo. An ASDA store was shown with green lightning in the sky above it and a voice-over stated, “Home for all things haunted. Save money, live better. ASDA”.
The ad was cleared by Clearcast with no scheduling restriction.
Sixty-two complainants, many of whom reported that their young children had been distressed by the ad, challenged whether it had been scheduled appropriately.
ASDA Stores Ltd said that the scheduling of the ad was proposed by their advertising agency and agreed by Clearcast prior to broadcast. They said that the ad contained elements typically associated with Halloween including lightning, costumes and decorations. It was intended to be fun and to represent a typical family/social gathering at Halloween. ASDA referred to CAP advice on Halloween ads and said that the ad did not feature any gory scenes or scenes showing blood or people who were visibly distressed; neither did it feature scenes that were likely to make the audience “jump”. They believed that the ad did not breach the BCAP Code in its presentation or its content. That was supported by Clearcast’s pre-approval decision that the ad did not require any restriction in its scheduling.
Clearcast said that they advised the agency at script stage that any visuals which could be problematic should be avoided. They reviewed and discussed the visuals in depth, particularly the shot of the girl’s eyes lighting up green, and their view was that the shot was tame, and would not cause any harm, fear or distress to children. As Halloween was regarded as a fun family event, Clearcast thought that the setting of the ad was fitting and helped remove it from being frightening to children. Everyone in the ad participated in the choreographed dance routine and the chosen song (“Word Up” by Cameo) was fun and upbeat. They felt those elements pushed the ad to be on the right side of the line. They believed that the ad fell within CAP’s guidance on Halloween ads and had been scheduled appropriately without a restriction that would prevent it from being transmitted in or adjacent to programmes commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal to children under 16 (“ex-kids”).
The ASA noted the ad depicted a Halloween celebration, with people wearing costumes and dancing to upbeat music. While the movements and demeanour of the characters, as well as the green eyes, made reference to tropes from scary films, they were presented in a context of fun and enjoyment as they performed a choreographed dance routine. We did not consider the ad was likely to cause fear or distress to older children, who would understand that it was about a family festival that referenced “spooky”, but not genuinely threatening or distressing, images.
However, we noted a large number of complainants stated that their children had been upset by the ad. We noted that the girl appeared to be possessed and not in control of her movements, that her eyes glowed unnaturally, and that she stared straight ahead without smiling. We considered this imagery, along with the darkness and the lightning striking the house, could prove frightening to very young children, regardless of the light-hearted tone in which it was intended, and in which older children would likely understand it.
The BCAP Code stated ads that were suitable for older children but could distress younger children should be sensitively scheduled. Clearcast had not applied a scheduling restriction to the ad. We understood Clearcast could alternatively apply a presentation code advising advertisers that they might want to view the ad to determine its acceptability for transmission in programmes appealing to children less than nine years of age. They had not issued such guidance in relation to the ad in question. However, while we considered the ad was likely to distress very young children, we had not seen any evidence that it had been broadcast during programming principally directed at, or of strong appeal to, that particular group. We therefore concluded that the ad had been appropriately scheduled and did not breach the Code.
We investigated the ad under BCAP Code rules
Advertisements that are suitable for older children but could distress younger children must be sensitively scheduled (see Section 32: Scheduling).
(Children), 32.1 32.1 Broadcasters must exercise responsible judgement on the scheduling of advertisements and operate internal systems capable of identifying and avoiding unsuitable juxtapositions between advertising material and programmes, especially those that could distress or offend viewers or listeners. and 32.3 32.3 Relevant timing restrictions must be applied to advertisements that, through their content, might harm or distress children of particular ages or that are otherwise unsuitable for them. (Scheduling), but did not find it in breach.
No further action required.